Suspended Pa. Priest Faces Fed Child Porn Sentence
By Joe Mandak
San Francisco Chronicle
January 2, 2013
A suspended Pittsburgh-area priest faced at least five years in federal prison at his sentencing Wednesday for possessing and receiving thousands of child pornography images — some of them sadomasochistic — on his church computer.
Court records show that federal prosecutors want the Rev. Bartley Sorensen to serve eight to 10 years in prison. But the defense attorney for the 63-year-old Roman Catholic priest has argued in court filings that the mandatory five-year sentence he faces is sufficient.
The attorney, Patrick Thomassey, contends Sorensen obtained the images for himself and never molested a child.
"There is no evidence of file sharing or swapping and there is no evidence that Sorensen ever engaged in any improper conduct with a child," Thomassey wrote in a presentence motion. "Sorensen cooperated with investigating agents and told them how he accessed the child pornography."
Sorensen pleaded guilty in May, when he told Senior U.S. District Judge Alan N. Bloch that he was undergoing weekly psychiatric counseling.
Sorensen was assigned to the St. John Fisher parish in Churchill, just east of Pittsburgh, when an 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, 2011.
Allegheny County detectives found more than 5,000 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.
Immediately after his guilty plea, Thomassey said "it's draconian that people go to jail just for possessing this stuff."
Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik suspended Sorensen after his arrest and 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 parish three weeks earlier.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Haller has acknowledged that Sorensen cooperated with investigators — but only after first claiming 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 images of boys in their early teens but sometimes viewed them as young as 4.