|Former Catholic Priest in Grand Prairie Gets Prison in Child Porn Case
By Jason Trahan
The Dallas Morning News
December 1, 2009
A former Grand Prairie priest who pleaded guilty to downloading hundreds of images of nude boys on a church computer in 2005 was sentenced Tuesday to more than four years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay ordered Matthew Bagert, 40, who was married last year and has a 9-month-old son, to report to prison Jan. 19.
Bagert will remain on supervised release for three years after serving his 51-month prison sentence. He is likely to have to register as a sex offender for life, officials said.
Bagert pleaded guilty in April after being indicted in federal court last fall after downloading sexually explicit photos of nude boys as young as 4.
Prosecutors say investigators found more than 600 images on his computer at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Grand Prairie. Bagert told investigators he had been viewing child porn since he was a priest at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Plano in 1997.
Before Lindsay imposed the sentence Tuesday, Bagert asked for probation. He said he had received counseling from the Shalom Center, a clergy treatment facility near Houston, and was in therapy to treat his urge to view child porn. He has never been charged with molesting children.
"I've worked to understand why I was attracted to pictures of young boys," he said, saying his child porn habit was a product of his being pushed into the priesthood by his parents and being pressured into a sexual relationship with a male mentor in the seminary.
"I know what I did was wrong," he said. "I've learned how to live as a mature and integrated man."
Bagert's wife, Melissa, said the pair met when Bagert was a priest at St. Mark and she was a physical education teacher at the school. They began dating after he was accused and left the priesthood, and traded letters while he was away at treatment. They married in April 2008, after the state case was dismissed but before his federal indictment.
'Family loves him'
"He loves his son. His family loves him," she said. "Matt realizes what he did was wrong and illegal. That doesn't define who Matt is."
Lindsay was not convinced probation was adequate.
"You are artfully suave – in common parlance, you're smooth," Lindsay told Bagert. "I am not convinced you have changed as much as you say you have.
"It's not uncommon for individuals to change once they're in trouble with the law. I have a difficult time, given your problems with sexuality, believing that you could 'turn it off' and not be inclined to continue what you were doing."
Bagert was initially charged under state laws in Dallas County district court. But in 2006, the case was dismissed because a judge ruled that a fellow priest and a deacon at Immaculate Conception in Grand Prairie broke the law when they searched Bagert's church computer without his consent.
The criminal code that the judge based his ruling on does not extend to federal law, however, and state prosecutors turned the case over to the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas, which filed federal charges.
According to court files, the Rev. Jesus Belmontes said that he first saw what he thought was a questionable image on Bagert's computer in December 2004 but wasn't sure it was pornography.
Belmontes said that after attending a church workshop on recognizing and reporting sexual abuse in January 2005, he became concerned and decided to sneak into Bagert's office to search his computer because he feared making a false claim against his colleague.
The next day, Belmontes and deacon David Maida returned and videotaped the images. Grand Prairie police later executed a search warrant and arrested Bagert based on the images Belmontes and Maida found.
After the state case was dropped in 2006, Bagert was indicted in federal court in November 2008 and surrendered to authorities. He has been on supervised release ever since.
Bagert, who lives in Richardson, has left the priesthood and works as a traveling installer for hotel energy management systems. His employer testified Tuesday that Bagert was a dependable employee and worked with five-star hotel clients across the country.
Dr. Jerome Brown, a psychologist at the Shalom Center, said that although Bagert can never be completely cured of his urges, he has responded well to treatment and is progressing.
"He's resolved many of his intimacy issues," Brown said. "His confusion about his sexual orientation is much better. I feel like he could go back to the community safely."
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