Churchill Priest Pleads Guilty to Child Porn Charges
By Brian Bowling
May 23, 2012
A Catholic priest who pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal child pornography charges is worried more about his broken religious vow than his potential prison sentence, the priest's lawyer said.
The Rev. Bart Sorensen, 63, formerly of St. John Fisher Church in Churchill, pleaded guilty to receiving and possessing thousands of pornographic images of young boys. U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch scheduled his sentencing for Sept. 13 and revoked his bond because Sorensen is facing at least five years in prison.
Pat Thomassey, Sorensen's lawyer, said his client elected to plead guilty without reaching a plea bargain with the government partly to reserve his appeal rights but more because a likely sentence of about seven years is not foremost on his mind.
"He's aware that he broke his vow as a priest," Thomassey said. "This has been his life and he's betrayed it."
The Diocese of Pittsburgh removed Sorensen from active ministry and placed him on administrative leave on Dec. 9.
Diocese spokesman the Rev. Ron Lengwin said that Sorensen remains on administrative leave.
His case will now be sent to the Vatican to determine if he should be defrocked, Lengwin said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Haller said that Sorensen admitted to investigators he viewed child pornography for about 10 years. He initially claimed he was only looking at a child porn website because a parishioner was concerned that his daughter was spending a lot of time on the site, but he later admitted no parishioner made such a request, Haller said.
Other than answering the judge's questions, Sorensen didn't speak during the hearing. Two of his brothers who attended the hearing declined comment afterward.
A detective from the Allegheny County District Attorney's office arrested Sorensen on state charges Dec. 10 after a parish worker spotted the priest looking at an image of a partially clad boy on his computer.
Subsequent searches of his home and office turned up thousands of images and some videos as well as books and photo albums. The District Attorney's Office dropped the state charges after prosecutors indicted Sorensen on the federal charges.