Priest admits guilt just as sex-abuse victim was to testify
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 28, 2004 01:40 PM
Just as his accuser was about to take the witness stand Thursday, a Catholic priest on trial on sex charges admitted his guilt.
The Rev. Karl LeClaire pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with sexual motivation and faces up to a year in jail and three years probation when he sentenced. He must submit to DNA testing and agree to not have contact with juveniles.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens could also require LeClaire to register as a sex offender.
Prosecutors allege that LeClaire first pulled the male victim, then a sixth-grader at Queen of Peace Catholic School in Mesa, out of class to counsel him about his parents' divorce. He was accused of touching the boy's genitals when he was 14 and 17 and was charged with child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor.
Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell said LeClaire's manipulation of the victim, now 24, included buying the one-time altar boy clothing, a stereo and a laptop computer, and taking him on trips to Alaska, Rome and Puerto Rico.LeClaire, 48, is still a priest but not acting in that capacity. He was the first Maricopa County priest accused of sex crimes to opt for a trial rather than pleading guilty in recent decades. But on Thursday, on the second day of trial, he elected to enter a guilty plea.
MESA - A prosecutor described the first Roman Catholic priest to risk a trial on sex charges as an expert manipulator who purposely drove the victim and his family apart to achieve his own sexual gratification.
Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell said the Rev. Karl LeClaire first pulled the male victim, then a sixth-grader at Queen of Peace Catholic School in Mesa, out of class to counsel him about his parents' divorce.
"He turned the counseling into an unquestioned opportunity to manipulate" the victim, she said. The boy "became a victim of Karl LeClaire's obsession. Father LeClaire took the obsession to the point he committed these crimes."
Group Details More Than 40 Molestation Cases In Which Mahony Knew of Prior Crimes
WHAT: Carrying signs & wearing black robes, hoods & masks, clergy abuse victims will stand in a silent vigil representing more than 40 known abuse victims who were molested AFTER Cardinal Mahony took over the archdiocese in 1985. The group will distribute a list of these alleged perpetrators' names and the number of their victims. At the same time, other victims will hand out leaflets to mass-goers urging anyone who experienced, witnessed, or suspects abuse to call the police.
WHEN: Sunday, April 25, at 1:15 p.m.
WHERE: Outside Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, 555 W. Temple St. (corner of Hill)
WHO: Two or three dozen clergy abuse victims, and their families and supporters, who are also members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the nation's largest support group for men and women victimized by clergy.
DETAILS: LA Cardinal Roger Mahony recently insisted that the archdiocese knew of only 10 victims who were abused after he took over, by priests who the archdiocese had previously learned had allegations of abuse against them. Using information gathered from legal documents and other sources, however, SNAP has identified more than 45 victims alleging they were abused after Mahony took over in 1985, by clerics already known to church officials as abusers.
The group will call on Mahony to turn over all personnel records on alleged child molesters to victims and law enforcement. The group will also demand that Mahony notify all parishioners of the number of children who have allegedly been abused since he became Cardinal (in 1985), the names of those perpetrators and their assignments.
The group will provide a four page handout with approximately five or six sentences about each case.
In an unusual move, a former St. Louis priest was publicly identified last week as an abuser by Alaska Catholic church leaders.
In the March 31 edition of the Anchorage Daily News the Anchorage archdiocesan chancellor said that Father Robert Wells was accused in 1992 or 1993 of sexually molesting a girl. The archdiocesan sexual misconduct committee found the woman's allegations credible and have since paid for her therapy.
Most dioceses do not name known or suspected molesters unless forced to do so through civil or criminal litigation or when bishops are forced to suspend them in the wake of credible allegations.
Leaders of the nation's largest support group for clergy abuse victims today applauded Schwietz's decision to name the priest, though questioned why it took so long and why Wells' victim wasn't consulted or warned beforehand.
"We are encouraged every time a bishop takes one small step toward greater openness," said David Clohessy of St. Louis. Clohessy is national director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). "We understand that Schwietz.could and should have handled this more promptly and sensitively. But at least he did what all bishops have repeatedly promised: he was open."
Barbara Dorris, SNAP's local St. Louis chapter leader, said she suspects that Wells might have spent time at one of the St. Louis area treatment centers for abusive clergy. "But we just don't know. He could have worked in a parish here and molested kids here too," she said.
Wells, a Redemptorist who worked at two Kenai peninsula parishes in Alaska from 1974-1990, died on April 20, 1992. He was born on May 22, 1923, was ordained in 1958 and worked in St. Louis around 1959.
In the obituary, the Rev. Michael Hornick said Wells was an intellectual who spoke French and loved fishing, photography, his missionary years in Thailand and visits to Hawaii.
Sister Charlotte Davenport, the Anchorage chancellor, initially defined it as a "one time" abusive incident that took place in the mid 1970s or early 1980s. The following day, however, the archdiocesan vicar general issued a correction, noting that the abuse lasted nearly eight years.
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