Former Priest to Be Sentenced in December to Pornography Charge

By Dan Telvock
October 5, 2005

A former priest at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in Leesburg pleaded no contest today in Loudoun Circuit Court to a charge of attempting to possess child pornography, avoiding a jury trial that was scheduled to begin Oct. 13.

Robert Brooks, 73, was originally charged with possession of child pornography, but Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman explained that investigators had difficulty identifying the ages of the people exposed in the pictures found on Brooks' computer. Plowman said proof of ages is necessary to obtain a conviction on the possession charge.

"The issue was what was the age of the kids," he said, "and we've got to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt."

Plowman said he does not believe the charge was reduced because the punishment for the crime remains the same as a class 6 felony. Brooks' attorney, Rodney Leffler, said he did not want to comment on why the decision was made to avoid the trial with the plea until after Brooks is sentenced Dec. 12.

Brooks was indicted in February after members of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted an investigation through its Operation Falcon program that monitors child pornography sites. Brooks resigned from the church in October 2004, before his indictment. The investigation of Brooks began in September 2003.

After Brooks was arrested, the Archdiocese in Arlington provided a statement on its Web site that said it was unaware of any other misconduct.

"Until this point, the diocese was aware of no sexual misconduct on the part of Father Brooks in his 30 years as a priest of the Diocese of Arlington (1974-2004) or the 13 years as a priest of the Diocese of Richmond (1961-1974)," the statement says.

Brooks was ordained in 1961 for the Diocese of Richmond and he became formally affiliated with the Diocese of Arlington at its establishment in 1974. The diocese said that Brooks held previous assignments as pastor, St. James, Falls Church, 1980 1990; pastor, St. Ambrose, Annandale, 1973-1980; pastor, St. Mark, Vienna, 1972; administrator and pastor, St. John, Highland Springs (Diocese of Richmond), 1971; assistant pastor, St. Philip, Falls Church, 1968-1971; assistant pastor, St. Louis, Alexandria, 1961-1968.

In a court document filed before today's hearing, it states that other than a few speeding tickets, Brooks has no other prior criminal record, history of mental illness or any disability.

Preparing for the trial, Plowman said his office hired a physician to help him identify the ages of some of the people in the pictures found on Brooks' computer, but he could not. Dr. Kent P. Hymel stated in a letter that he inspected 189 digital photos that were found on Brooks' computer and they all depicted males, but he could not determine who was under the age of 18.

In a court document provided by Leffler, it states that since being charged, Brooks has not been allowed to act as a priest at any level.

"Finally, Robert Brooks believes that upon his sentencing, he will be banned from, and no longer permitted any legal attachment to, the church he has served for over forty years," the document states.

Brooks was given several letters of support from people in the community. Letters were written by members of the Diocese of Arlington and several other priests.

Since the arrest, Brooks has been receiving mental health treatment, the document states, and Leffler included a summary from the doctor seeing Brooks.

"[Robert Brooks] feels tremendous remorse over the damage his use of pornography ultimately caused his church, his family and his friends, both due to the disappointment and shame he caused them, but also due to his inability to continue his ministry," Dr. William W. Commins wrote.

Leffler also noted that the charge against Brooks has only recently become a felony and that he believes it is a misdemeanor, which is only punishable by up to a year in jail.

"We ask that the Court consider that Robert Brooks has lost not only his dignity but also, his calling, his church and his home," Leffler wrote in the court document. "Perhaps Bishop Loverde put it best in his letter of September 30, 2005 when he asks the Court for 'a sentence [that] would integrate the seriousness of the offense, the excellent ministry he has rendered until the recent past and his age.'"

Brooks faces a maximum of five years in prison.


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