Priest Pleads Guilty of Child Porn Charge
Former Pastor Admits He Got Material from the Internet
By Tim Bryant
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
May 9, 2002
The Rev. John P. Hess, whose computer was seized by federal agents two months ago when he was pastor of Most Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Florissant, admitted in federal court Wednesday that it contained child pornography he got over the Internet.
Hess, 56, pleaded guilty to one felony charge. He could get about two years in prison when sentenced July 26.
The priest wore a jacket and tie but not clerical garb to his hearing in the Eagleton U.S. Courthouse downtown. He declined to comment as he left.
Defense lawyer Richard Sindel later called the crime "real tragic and unfortunate" and a "blip" on an otherwise productive life.
Authorities said Hess was part of a worldwide group known as "Candyman" that exchanged child pornography. The FBI said in March — when it announced arrests of about 90 people in 26 states — that 7,000 people had registered e-mail addresses with "Candyman." Authorities traced 1,400 to people in the United States and focused their investigation on about 700.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Wilkerson said the FBI found in January last year that Hess' computer at the Most Sacred Heart rectory was on the "Candyman" list. The investigation began when an undercover FBI agent in Houston joined "Candyman."
Agents from the FBI and the Postal Inspection Service seized Hess' computer March 6. Its hard drive contained hundreds of images of kiddie porn, including several videos of children having sex, authorities said. Hess admitted in court documents that he had pictures of male children in sex acts.
U.S. Attorney Ray Gruender said Wednesday, "If you break the law, you cannot hide in cyberspace. This case shows we don't care who you are . . . what your station is in life."
St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali issued a statement saying that he was saddened.
"From the beginning I had encouraged Father Hess to cooperate fully with authorities," Rigali said. "I will continue to offer him my prayerful support in the difficult time ahead."
Rigali said that as of Wednesday, the Rev. Edward Stanger was pastor at Most Sacred Heart; Stanger had been temporary administrator since Hess' problem surfaced.
A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said Hess is no longer allowed to perform priestly duties.
The defendant was freed on his promise to show up for sentencing. Under federal guidelines, he could get from 21 to 27 months in prison.
Gruender said the archdiocese cooperated with the investigation. The prosecutor said there is no evidence Hess acted inappropriately with children. None of those seen in his computer appear to be from the St. Louis area, Gruender said.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals appointed U.S. District Judge Richard H. Kyle, of St. Paul, Minn., to handle the case after federal judges in St. Louis recused themselves. A sister-in-law of Hess is a court employee; her husband - the defendant's brother - is former U.S. Attorney Frederick J. "Rick" Hess of the Southern District of Illinois.
Charges against more "Candyman" members, including some in the St. Louis area, are likely, Gruender said. Those charged in March included clergy, a school bus driver, a preschool teacher's aide and a child photographer.
Charged previously in St. Louis were three people. James Rader, 52, of Hannibal, pleaded guilty Friday of having child pornography on his home computer and is to be sentenced July 19. Charges are pending against two others.
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