Molester Priest Gets 9 1/2 Yrs. in Prison

By A.J. Flick
Tucson Citizen
June 10, 2003

A priest in a little-known sect devoted to the Virgin Mary was sentenced yesterday to 9 1/2 years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old South Tucson boy in 1982.

Thomas Purcell, a member of the Marist Fathers (Society of Mary), was credited for time served and ordered by Judge Michael Alfred of Pima County Superior Court to serve 9 1/2 years of a 12-year sentence.

Purcell was tried in absentia in March and convicted of three counts of sexual conduct with a minor younger than 15 and one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor younger than 15.

He was given three concurrent seven-year sentences for the sexual conduct conviction and five additional years for the attempted sexual conduct conviction.

"He was not a priest in the Diocese of Tucson," stressed Fred Allison, diocese spokesman.

Allison said Purcell had applied to incardination with the Tucson Diocese, which is when a member from another religious order applies to be a diocesan, or secular, priest.

"It was unknown to us or anyone that he had a history or a possible history of child abuse," Allison said. "We first learned about it from the South Tucson police last summer."

Purcell was assigned to St. Odilia Catholic Church, 7570 N. Paseo del Norte, but its pastor didn't believe Purcell was really that interested in becoming a diocesan priest, Allison said. The abuse took place during Purcell's assignment at St. Odilia.

At the same time, Purcell began teaching at Pima Community College, Allison said, though he did not know what course he taught.

Purcell began living away from the parish, Allison said. The Rev. Henry Miller, who has since died, noticed "bizarre" behavior on Purcell's part. Purcell allegedly "adopted" a local family and would bring the family's laundry to the rectory to wash or ask housekeeping staff to wash it.

Miller "thought that was very, very strange," Allison said.

Purcell left St. Odilia and briefly went to Sacred Heart parish in Nogales, Allison said. "Then he disappeared off the map, until last summer."

Neither Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer, who prosecuted the case, nor Purcell's lawyer, Chip Plowman, was available to comment last night.



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