Priest Pleads Guilty to Receiving Child Porn over the Internet

By Dan Lewerenz
Associated Press State & Local Wire
October 24, 2003

A Roman Catholic priest pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of receiving child pornography over the Internet.

The Rev. Elwood F. Figurelle, 70, on Friday admitted to viewing Web sites that included pictures of adults and children in sexual situations.

Prosecutors said they discovered the offense last February when Figurelle asked a computer store to transfer files from his old hard drive to a new computer he had just bought. Store employees turned the old hard drive over to the FBI after finding file names indicating they might contain child pornography.

During the hearing, Figurelle said he had never intended to store files on the computer and didn't know how they got there. But he admitted that he had viewed child pornography on the Internet and agreed to plead guilty.

"I am not objecting to the fact that I was guilty of looking at pornography on the Internet. I am objecting to the fact that I stored it," Figurelle said during the hearing. "I certainly plead guilty to looking at pornography on the Internet and that it was on my computer."

Federal guidelines list no minimum sentence, but a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; because Figurelle has no prior convictions, attorneys for both sides agreed that the guidelines would likely call for a sentence of between two years, three months and two years, nine months in prison. A presentencing conference was scheduled for Jan. 22.

Figurelle's attorney, P. Alan Zulick, said he would file a motion asking for a shorter sentence, saying that Figurelle had completed four months of in-patient counseling since his arrest and that the sentence in the guidelines would be too long.

"I think that would be a grossly excessive sentence for a 70-year-old Catholic priest to undergo, who had no prior record," Zulick said.

Figurelle, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Mount Union, resigned earlier this month after having been on leave since March, said Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, who heads the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The images on Figurelle's computer did not involve any children from the diocese, Adamec said.

Two priests from the diocese were in court to support Figurelle, and the Rev. Carl A. Spishak, of St. Rose Church in Altoona, said Figurelle had strong support back in his parish.

"I felt a need to support him in this difficult time," Spishak said.

The diocese spokeswoman, Sister Mary Parks, said Figurelle had been removed from ministry and was not allowed to publicly function as a priest. The church may take further action after he is sentenced, she said.

Figurelle had been at St. Catherine of Siena since 1995.


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