A former associate pastor at Chandler’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church pleaded guilty Tuesday to having sex with a teenage parishioner more than 23 years ago.
Under terms of the plea agreement, the Rev. Joseph Briceno probably won’t spend much time beyond his Dec. 15 sentencing day behind bars, said his lawyer, Karla Momberger.
Briceno, who admitted in Maricopa County Superior Court to committing two sex acts on different occasions on a 17-year-old boy in 1983, will be sentenced under laws from that period, which allow for a prisoner’s time to be cut in half for good behavior. The law changed in 1994, requiring convicts to serve 85 percent of their sentences.
“I think this case went on much longer than it needed to,” Momberger said. “This sort of plea would have been appropriate a long time ago.”
Briceno went on trial Oct. 11 for the 2003 indictment, which alleges he had sex with the boy on seven occasions between June 1982 and August 1983 and grabbed the breast of the victim’s 20-year-old sister on one occasion.
Briceno was looking at serving more than 30 years in prison if he had been convicted on all counts at trial.
Momberger said she doesn’t expect Briceno, who has been in jail since his December arrest in California, to be sentenced to any more than 1 1 /2 years, and he’ll be given credit for his time served.
And if that time is cut in half for good behavior, then Briceno will have already served his time by Dec. 15, Momberger said.
The plea agreement also calls for probation of no less than three years to be served after the prison term.
Both victims were in the courtroom for the change of plea, as were a small contingent of Briceno supporters.
“The plea really speaks for itself,” said the husband of the woman Briceno is accused of groping.
The husband said the victims would decline further comment.
In June 2003, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office ended a yearlong investigation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, charging eight priests in molestations from decades ago.
Five were convicted, one is a fugitive, one died and the Irish government refused to return one to be tried.
Monsignor Dale Fushek, former pastor of St. Timothy Catholic Community in Mesa, was indicted on sexually related misdemeanor charges and is still awaiting trial.
St. Mary’s was particularly hit hard with the indictment of three former priests.
In Briceno’s case, the victim told investigators that as a teenager he went to St. Mary’s, 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, according to investigative records.
In 1992, the victims’ family reported the abuse to the diocese, which suspended Briceno the same year.
The 50-year-old priest still found work in Mexicali, where the local diocese made him a vicar, or assistant to the pastor at Santa Maria de Gracia, with food and lodging at a house shared by several priests across the street from the church.