A major who served as a Catholic chaplain atBarksdale Air Force Base for just more than a year has been indicted inArizona on charges that he sexually abused two boys there in the 1980s.
TheRev. Gary E. Underwood, a priest assigned to the Roman Catholic Dioceseof Tucson, Ariz., was arraigned Nov. 17 on eight counts of sexualconduct with a minor and child molestation.
The allegationsinvolve two boys under the age of 15 for acts said to have occurred in1983 and 1984 while Underwood served as a priest at St. Odilia'sCatholic Church in Tucson, Pima County Deputy Attorney Kathleen Mayersaid. Underwood served at St. Odilia's from 1982 to 1988, she said.
"(Maj.)Chaplain Underwood has been the senior Catholic chaplain for the 2ndBomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base since 2005," said Col. DanielCharchian, the wing's commander.
Underwood, now free on bond,remains at the local base but in an office slot. He "is currentlyperforming duties assisting the director of staff at the 2nd Bomb Winguntil this issue is resolved," Charchian said.
Underwood wasrelieved of religious duties in early August after a visit by AuxiliaryBishop Richard B. Higgins of the Archdiocese for the Military Services,under which Underwood served. Higgins also briefed the Catholic Dioceseof Shreveport of the allegations against Underwood.
"Noallegations have been made stemming from Father Underwood’s time here,"said Bishop William B. Friend of the Shreveport Diocese, who stressedthat Underwood never appeared on its clergy roster. "The clergy fromwithin our diocese have been very responsive in stepping in to provideneeded ministry to what has historically been a vibrant and activefaith community on base."
The judge advocate’s office is notinvolved in the civilian court proceedings but will monitor thecriminal proceedings, base spokesmen said.
Underwood has acivilian legal counsel. "He's innocent and we look forward tolitigating," his attorney, Dan Cooper, said. He would not say where thepriest is living. And Underwood's exact age is unavailable, but he isnow in his early 50s.
Prosecutors learned of the accusationsfrom the diocese after church officials spoke to a relative of one ofthe alleged victims, Mayer said.
Officials with the Tucsondiocese have declined to comment, referring all questions to the PimaCounty prosecutor's office. The diocese lists Underwood as being onleave and serving at Barksdale. But under diocese policy, he has beensuspended from the priesthood.
The diocese in 2002 begancompiling a list of 30 priests, two deacons and a nun with credibleallegations of abuse against them. That's when the Tucson diocesereached a $14 million settlement with 10 men who said they weresexually abused by four local clergy members in the 1960s, '70s and'80s.
Three diocese priests have been imprisoned for sexual abuse. They include:
the Rev. Julian Sanz, a former pastor of Immaculate Conception CatholicChurch in Douglas, Ariz., who was sentenced in 2003 to five years forsexually abusing an 11-year-old altar boy during confession in 1982.
the Rev. Juan Guillen, a former associate pastor at ImmaculateConception Catholic Church in Yuma, Ariz., who is serving 10 years ontwo counts of attempted child molestation for sexually abusing altarboys.
the Rev. Thomas Purcell, a member of the Society ofMary religious order who is serving 9 1/2 years for sexually abusing aSouth Tucson, Ariz., boy in the 1980s.
The diocese filedfor bankruptcy protection in 2004 as it faced a raft of lawsuitsrelated to sexual abuse by priests. It became the first Catholicdiocese in the country to emerge from Chapter 11 protection in 2005.
The diocese created a fund of more than $20 million to compensate people molested by members of the clergy.
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