ST. LOUIS (MO)
Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]
January 14, 2023
By Gina Christian, OSV News
A Vincentian priest in St. Louis was sentenced Jan. 10 to prison and ordered to pay restitution for possessing 6,000 images of child pornography, an act which one victim told the presiding judge was “depressing and sickening.”
Father James T. Beighlie, a 72-year-old retired member of the Congregation of the Mission, Western Province, was ordered to serve five years in jail after pleading guilty Oct. 12, 2022, to two counts of possessing images depicting child sexual abuse. Following the prison term, Father Beighlie will be on supervised release for life.
U.S. District Judge Matthew T. Schelp also ordered Father Beighlie to pay $26,750 in restitution — $4,750 to one of the victims depicted in the child pornography images, and $22,000 toward other victims of crimes involving children.
“It’s depressing and sickening to know that people were looking at images and videos of my online sexual abuse when I was a little girl and that they were getting pleasure from it — my abuse,” wrote one of the victims in a letter to Judge Schelp.
The images were discovered after staff at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in St. Louis — where Father Beighlie served as associate pastor from July 2019 to May 2021, according to the Vincentians — found what the U.S. Attorney’s Office called “compromising images” of the priest on a church printer.
The parish launched an internal investigation, which spanned four desktop computers, a laptop and a smartphone used by Father Beighlie, who was removed as associate pastor and placed in what the order called “a monitored environment.”
After a private IT company found videos of minors engaging in sex acts, an attorney for the church contacted the FBI, which ultimately brought the case against the priest as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood.
Some 6,000 images of child sexual abuse material were located on one computer, with about 3,000 containing child pornography and 2,992 images of child erotica, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri. One device had 236 images and 40 videos containing child sexual abuse material.
In addition, investigators found two PowerPoint presentations created by Father Beighlie that linked to thousands of the images.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Lang said in court that Father Beighlie’s “criminal conduct was part of his daily life,” with the priest viewing child sexual abuse material since 2008 and revising the PowerPoint presentations more than 200 times.
A statement from the Vincentians said the order — which has a safe environment accreditation through the Praesidium organization — had encouraged members of the community, particularly those places where Father Beighlie had been assigned — to come forward with any additional information about the case.
The order confirmed to OSV News that in addition to St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Father Beighlie had served at St. Thomas Aquinas/Mercy High School in St. Louis, Vincent Gray Academy in East St. Louis, and at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in House Springs, Missouri.
A spokesman for the congregation also told OSV News that provincial superior Father Patrick McDevitt had notified the Archdiocese of St. Louis about the case. Such notification is required by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in accord with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The spokesman also said there were “no other instances of abuse connected with (Father Beighlie)” aside from those prosecuted in the court case, and that the priest had not committed any in-person acts of abuse against children.
In a Jan. 10 statement released by the order, Father McDevitt said that “while the circumstances surrounding this sentencing are very saddening for us, we respect the judge’s decision and have cooperated with law enforcement throughout the process. Exploitation of children through pornography is a grave sin and has no place in society.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office told OSV News that the priest is currently at the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Missouri, operated by the Servants of the Paraclete order.
His prison assignment is expected to be finalized within the next one to three months. Two calls placed by OSV News with the Vianney Renewal Center have not been returned.
Mike McDonnell, communications manager of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), told OSV News that his organization was “glad the wheels of justice have finally moved in this atrocious case.”
At the same, he said, “the biggest glare that we see is how long a career (Father Beighlie) had. Now he is just being sentenced, (but) we are still cautious because we know that this is … a predilection that there is no cure from and no diagnostic tool as well.”
McConnell also said SNAP “would like to know where (Father Beighlie) is going to be under his supervised release. Is that under the Vincentians? And secondly, how come the canonical process to remove him from the priesthood has not begun?”
The Vincentians’ spokesman said he had no information regarding any plans to remove Father Beighlie from the clerical state.