Six Catholic priests — four of whom led East Valley churches — have been indicted on charges of sexual conduct, molestation and public sexual indecency as part of a year-long investigation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley announced Monday.
“We believe we have evidence to show serious sexual misconduct here,” Romley said.
The indicted priests are: the Revs. Joseph Briceno and Henry Perez, formerly of St. Mary's Church in Chandler; the Rev. Patrick Colleary, formerly of Holy Spirit Church in Tempe and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale; the Rev. Karl LeClaire, formerly of Queen of Peace Parish in Mesa; the Rev. Lawrence Lovell, former priest at Sacred Heart Church of Prescott; and the Rev. Paul Le Brun, formerly of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tolleson and St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear.
Of the seven boys and a girl victimized, most were lured into performing or receiving sexual acts through gifts, favors, parental consent to spend time alone with priests, and their trust of religious authority figures, according to investigative summaries from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. Some of the victims had problems at home and at school and turned to the priests for help.
"To a Catholic, a priest is someone who is trusted implicitly as a moral and structural teacher, and to have someone in that station in life abuse that trust causes you to have problems," said Paul Fischer, an attorney for a man who said he was molested by LeClaire, according to the indictment and a lawsuit filed against LeClaire in U.S. District Court.
Le Brun, LeClaire and Lovell have been arrested. Perez died of a heart attack. Colleary, who is believed to be in Ireland, and Briceno, who may be in Mexico, are fugitives, Romley said, and he will ask the Vatican to order the two priests to return to the United States to face charges.
Attempts to reach the priests and their attorneys were unsuccessful.
Details of the indictments and investigations include:
• Colleary, 53, charged with two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor. In a Jan. 1 interview with the county attorney's office, a man described how on two occasions at Holy Spirit Church in Tempe, Colleary performed oral sex on him nearly three decades ago.
On a third occasion, Christmas Eve 1978, the man said he was in the changing room for altar boys with Colleary standing naked behind him when the priest assaulted him. The victim was 10 years old.
• Perez, 63, charged with six counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of public sexual indecency. A man told investigators Perez encouraged him to be an altar boy at St. Mary's Parish in Chandler, took him out to dinner and on trips to Las Vegas, and bought him cigarettes and alcohol as a teenager.
On two occasions, the man described how Perez hugged, kissed and molested him. The man "said he didn't know whether to scream or cry and run away," according to county attorney documents. Another man told investigators he also was a victim of Perez at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale. The man, who agreed to massage Perez for money to fix his father's truck, said he was molested by Perez with an electric massager on one occasion, and had sex with Perez on a second.
• Briceno, 56, charged with six counts of sexual conduct with a minor, one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor and one count of sexual abuse. A man told investigators that as a teenager he went to St. Mary's Church in Chandler where Briceno went on bike rides with him with the consent of his mother. His mother also allowed him to spend the night at the rectory with Briceno, who molested him in bed. Sexual abuse occurred on several other occasions in 1982 and 1983, before the victim was 18.
That man’s sister told investigators that while Briceno was visiting her family's home one Saturday morning, she awoke to find the priest touching her breast.
• Le Brun, 47, charged with one count of sexual conduct with a minor. A 12-year-old boy said Le Brun, touched him in a sexual manner on Oct. 14, 1991, while babysitting him.
• Lovell, 55, charged with one count of molestation of a child, one count of attempted molestation of a child, and two counts of sexual conduct with a minor. A boy said that Lovell fondled him on different occasions in 1978 and 1979, once after getting him drunk and another while hanging Christmas decorations.
• LeClaire, 46, charged with one count of molestation of a child and sexual conduct with a minor. A man told investigators LeClaire, a priest at Queen of Peace Parish in Mesa, sexually abused him as a teenager from 1993 to 2000. LeClaire took him on trips to the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, and on cruises to the Mediterranean and Alaska. He gave him a stereo, a laptop computer, a suit, a loan to buy a truck, and helped him get into Seton Catholic High School, according to the investigation. LeClaire also gave him massages, during which the boy was molested.
The boy "said that Father LeClaire was teaching him to be a gigolo," according to the county's investigative summary. "As Father LeClaire described it, a gigolo is not necessarily someone who engages in sexual activity. A gigolo is someone who supplies what another person needs."
Kathy Gohl, a former member of Queen of Peace Parish for 28 years, said the sexual misconduct allegations against LeClaire were upsetting. Although Gohl left the church after clashing with LeClaire over his treatment of staff members and volunteers, she said it was difficult to accept that LeClaire harmed a child.
"I'm still having a hard time believing this. He did a lot for me and my family," said Gohl, who lives in Fountain Hills. "On some level, hopefully it will all finally be put to rest."