After raid found 1000’s of images, former RI priest pleads guilty to child pornography

Providence Journal [Providence RI]

June 8, 2023

By Katie Mulvaney

Editor’s note: This story includes graphic details some readers may find offensive

PROVIDENCE – A former Providence Catholic priest pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal child pornography charge, days before his case was slated to head to trial.

James W. Jackson, 68, a former pastor at St. Mary’s Church, admitted to a felony count of receiving child pornography before U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith.

In exchange, Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. McAdams agreed to dismiss a charge of possessing child pornography. His trial had been set to start June 20.

Background on James W. Jackson’s case

Rhode Island State Police arrested Jackson in October 2021 following an investigation into someone sharing child pornography that led to the St. Mary’s Catholic Parish and rectory at 538 Broadway. Investigators executing a search warrant there located more than 12,000 images and 1,300 video files depicting child sexual abuse, with Jackson identified as the owner, according to court documents.

McAdams detailed some of the content found on Jackson’s computer Thursday, including videos, some more than a half hour long, of prepubescent girls being sexually abused through bestiality, bondage, and other illicit conduct involving adults.

The plea agreement specified that Jackson reserved the right to appeal Judge Smith’s earlier denial of his motion to suppress the evidence seized during the court-approved searches at St. Mary’s.

Jackson, through his lawyer, John L. Calcagni III, had unsuccessfully challenged the warrants as overly broad and lacking in particularity, in violation of his constitutional rights.

Jackson faces a minimum of five years in prison and up to 20 years at his sentencing on Sept. 11.

Allegations in Kansas

Jackson has been held at the Donald Wyatt Detention Facility since last fall, when he admitted prosecutors could prove that he violated his bail terms by possessing sexually explicit content involving children and accessing more than one internet-connected device. 

Prosecutors moved to detain him after learning that he was the primary target of a child pornography investigation in Kansas, where he was living with his sister and brother-in-law as his case proceeded.

Jackson has not been criminally charged in Kansas, though the police findings have been referred to the Johnson County District Attorney’s office, according to Overland Park police.

Jackson’s prior ministry

The Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, former bishop of the Diocese of Providence, removed Jackson as pastor and prohibited him from sacred ministry following his arrest.

He was installed as pastor of St. Mary’s Church about three months before his arrest. He previously spent more than a decade as pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado.  

He is a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter North American Province. A lawyer for the organization said, “Until Fr. Jackson was arrested, the Fraternity of St. Peter was not aware of anything in his words or behavior that could give rise to suspicion concerning such actions. Crimes of this type are execrable, and Catholics should pray for the victims of pornography and work to put an end to its industry.”

The organization also pledged to cooperate with civil and ecclesiastical authorities in this case.