Louisville Archdiocese to give priest-porn update

By Chris Kenning
August 21, 2015

The Rev. Stephen A. Pohl

Louisville Catholic priest Stephen A. Pohl has resigned as pastor of St. Margaret Mary after investigators found child porn on his computer and found that Pohl had taken "inappropriate" images of parish school children, Archdiocese of Louisville leaders said Friday.

An ongoing FBI investigation has found that Pohl had up to 200 photos of St. Margaret Mary schoolchildren on a computer, officials said. All were clothed, but investigators deemed some of the photos inappropriate. Investigators also told the archdiocese that Pohl had downloaded child porn on his personal computer.

"I personally, and all of our archdiocese, were deeply grieved" about the allegations and "the impact that this investigation will have on the faithful throughout the archdiocese," Archbishop of Louisville Joseph Kurtz said at a news briefing Friday, when he pledged full cooperation and transparency.

Chancellor Brian Reynolds said the FBI cyber crimes investigation — prompted after a child told a family member about a photo that was taken that "bothered the child" — is still ongoing and could take months. The information the archdiocese shared Friday was from an interim investigation report officials received a day earlier.

Pohl, 57, who had been pastor of the parish at 7813 Shelbyville Road since 2008 and an ordained priest since 1985, was put on leave last week. On Thursday night, after Pohl resigned, the archdiocese shared the preliminary findings with an upset school staff and parents, offering counselors and information.

"They expressed anger, pain and fear," Reynolds said. "It's painful for everybody involved. Certainly we understand people's emotions."

Archdiocese officials haven't seen the photos, or gotten a description of them, and couldn't say Friday who is in them, how far back they date or what about them is inappropriate. There were boys and girls, and they were apparently taken on parish grounds. Some parents have said some were taken with children's permission, Reynolds said.

"There are a lot of emotions people are working through right now," said Erin Haynes Reed, president of the school's parent-teacher organization, declining to comment further.

Attempts to locate Pohl for comment were unsuccessful Friday. Kurtz said he urged Pohl to cooperate, but that Pohl hasn't directly addressed the allegations.

Archdiocese officials last week named the Rev. J. Mark Spalding, vicar general and pastor of Holy Trinity parish, as the temporary administrator of St. Margaret Mary Parish.

Cecelia Price, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said she wasn’t aware of any previous disciplinary issues facing Pohl. She declined to release Pohl's personnel file Friday but said he'd previously held appointments at St. Monica, St. Thomas and Basilica of St. Joseph parishes in Bardstown, Ky., and St. Athanasius and St. Gabriel parishes in Louisville dating back to the mid-1980s.

Pohl has vacated church property — he'd been living on parish grounds —  and under Catholic rules cannot currently present himself as a priest, wear clerical garb or provide pastoral care, officials said.

"We want to cooperate and not interfere" with the investigation, Kurtz said. Officials also urged families to contact authorities if they had information or contact the church if they needed counseling or support.

But David Clohessy, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy and support group, said Friday that cooperating with authorities wasn't enough.

"Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and his staff must use their vast resources — church websites, parish bulletins and pulpit announcements, across the whole archdiocese — to aggressively seek out victims, witnesses and whistleblowers and actively help police and prosecutors pursue this criminal cleric," he said in a statement.

"Our hearts ache for St. Margaret Mary parishioners who must wonder whether their son, daughter, niece, nephew or neighbor’s child is one of the kids that Fr. Pohl took 'inappropriate' photos of," he said. "We urge these families to prod their church officials to do more to protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded and expose the truth."

Reynolds said archdiocese school children participate in safe environment classes that teach children, "if you have a concern, raise it," Reynolds said. "I'm hopeful that's what happened."

Reynolds said word of the investigation first came to archdiocese officials on Aug. 12. After it was confirmed with the FBI, Pohl was put on leave. Parish staff was told on Aug. 14, and the parish was informed over last weekend. On Monday, counselors were on hand to help students and staff cope with the news.

Wendy Sims, the principal of the 709-student K-8 school, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.


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