Suspended Pa. priest pleads guilty to child porn

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Houston Chronicle (chron.com)

 23 May 2012

JOE MANDAK, Associated Press

A suspended Roman Catholic priest faces at least five years in federal prison for possessing and receiving thousands of child pornography images in a case that began when a church employee allegedly caught him viewing a half-naked boy’s picture on a computer at his church office.

The Rev. Bartley Sorensen, 63, pleaded guilty Wednesday to child pornography charges. The judge revoked his bond and Sorensen left the courtroom in handcuffs, escorted by deputy U.S. marshals. He is to be sentenced Sept. 13.

At the court hearing, the priest told the judge he was undergoing weekly psychiatric counseling. Otherwise, he said little. Sorensen’s two brothers declined to comment after taking his belt, tie and sport coat as the marshals led him away.

Sorensen was assigned to St. John Fisher Church in Churchill when the employee called the Catholic Child Abuse Hotline after seeing the priest allegedly looking at an image of a young boy wearing only a shirt under the caption “Hottie Boys” on Dec. 9.

Allegheny County detectives searched Sorensen’s rectory and filed more charges after they found 5,000 more images on three CDs taken from his church-owned residence and seized a digital camera, other CDs and DVDs, books and photo albums. Federal prosecutors took over the case and indicted Sorensen in January.

Sorensen faces a mandatory minimum five-year sentence for pleading guilty to receiving child pornography on his computer. The crime carries a maximum 20-year sentence. He faces up to 10 years in prison for his guilty plea to possessing child pornography.

Sorensen’s attorney, Patrick Thomassey, said the priest opted to plead guilty to both charges without a plea bargain so he could retain his right to appeal after sentencing.

“I think it’s draconian that people go to jail just for possessing this stuff,” Thomassey said, adding that Sorensen is dealing with weightier matters, notably that he’s violated his priestly vows under which he lived most of his life. “Father Sorensen never touched a child … there’s no suspicion that he’s ever touched a child.”

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik suspended Sorensen after his arrest. The bishop said in a statement at the time, “There is no way to understand, yet alone excuse or talk around compulsions involving children.”

A police affidavit said the employee reported seeing the image of a boy who appeared to be 5 to 10 years old, posing on all fours. The employee told investigators Sorensen spent “hours upon hours” on his computer alone in his office. Sorensen had been transferred to the suburban Pittsburgh parish three weeks earlier.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Haller said Sorensen at first gave investigators misleading statements and claimed he had visited the website because a parishioner asked him to check it out because the parishioner caught his daughter viewing the site. Haller said the priest eventually acknowledged searching online for such images for about 10 years, saying he preferred to view images of boys in their early teens but sometimes viewed them as young as 4.

2 Responses to Suspended Pa. priest pleads guilty to child porn

  1. Sylvia says:

    God help us! –  a peek inside the mind of at least one defence lawyer on the merits of jail time for possession of child porn:

    “I think it’s draconian that people go to jail just for possessing this stuff,”

  2. PJ says:

    Until this defense lawyer actually experiences the anguish of having some predator looking at those types of photos of some child he knows, only then will he see how utterly horrible his comments are. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that he is being extremely well paid to defend these dredges of society. Money talks!

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