Catholic Priest Pleads Guilty in Child Porn Case

May 23, 2012

PITTSBURGH - A Catholic priest accused of viewing child pornography at his office in Churchill and possessing thousands of images of young boys pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court.

The Rev. Bartley Sorensen, 63, will face at least five years in prison when Senior U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch sentences him for possessing and receiving child pornography.

Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said Sorensen is upset and is receiving psychiatric care. He said he wants it to be clear that Sorensen never touched any children.

The case began in December, when a female office employee of St. John Fisher Church called the Catholic Child Abuse Hotline after seeing Sorensen allegedly looking at images of child pornography under the caption "Hottie Boys."

Allegheny County detectives filed more charges when they found 5,000 images on three CDs taken from his church-owned residence and seized a digital camera, other CDs and DVDs, books and photo albums. Federal prosecutors later took the case.

Sorensen resigned on Dec. 9 and has been suspended by the church.

"It's simply a possession crime. There's no allegation that there was anything physical involved with anybody," Thomassey said in December. "The morality of it, I don't talk about. The legality of it is horrible. This stuff is out there on the Internet. Anybody can sit down and look at it -- just look at it, not do anything else -- and the government comes in and arrests you, puts you in jail."

Each of the counts against Sorensen is a third-degree felony, meaning each count can have a maximum penalty of several years in prison.

"I have a problem with that, but the people that make these laws don't -- of course, until one of them starts to look at it. Then they all have a problem with it," Thomassey said.

The original police arrest affidavit said the office employee reported seeing an image of a boy who appeared to be 5 to 10 years old, and naked from the waist down, on the priest's computer in his residence. She told investigators that Sorensen spent "hours upon hours" on his computer alone in his office, according to the affidavit.


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