Ex-pastor Pleads Guilty to Child Porn Charge
By Matthew Glowicki
January 4, 2016
|Father Stephen Pohl|
A Louisville Roman Catholic priest was taken into custody Monday after pleading guilty to a single felony count of accessing child porn.
Stephen Pohl, 57, a former pastor at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, admitted to accessing the pornographic images of nude underage boys on computers at the church rectory and office between January and August 2015.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Pohl would serve 33 months in federal prison then register as a sex offender and face a lifetime of supervision by the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services.
"I'm presently working with a psychologist," Pohl told U.S. District Judge David Hale in court. "It has assisted me in understanding what is happening here."
At the end of the hearing, Pohl gave a slight nod to his family members as they filed out of the court pews. He then surrendered to U.S. marshals. He had been under house arrest at his mother's home awaiting trial, which was originally scheduled for Jan. 12 in U.S. District Court.
The judge can alter the proposed plea agreement though Pohl reserves the right to withdraw his plea if that happens. Sentencing is set for 1:30 p.m. March 29.
There is no minimum penalty for the charge. It is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and at least five years of supervised release.
Pohl originally entered a not guilty plea after he was arrested in August following the search of the church office and rectory, 7813 Shelbyville Road. The Archdiocese of Louisville placed Pohl on administrative leave following the searches. Pohl then resigned as pastor and was arrested soon after.
Federal and local investigators also noted they found more than 150 photos Pohl snapped of clothed students, some of which constituted child erotica, according to a criminal complaint. However, no criminal charges have arisen from that allegation.
The archdiocese released a statement Monday, saying it has cooperated with police in the investigation.
"For the sake of St. Margaret Mary Parish and our local Church, we welcome the news that Father Pohl is pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for his actions," reads an archdiocese written statement provided by spokeswoman Cecelia Hart Price.
Defense attorney Ted Shouse also said the guilty plea signals Pohl is taking responsibility for his actions.
"There's a lot of reasons that someone would enter a guilty plea, and I think we can address that more fully in our sentencing hearing," he said after court Monday.
David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on St. Margaret Mary families to ask questions of the church and prod them to seek out any priest wrongdoing.
"We’re glad Fr. Stephen Pohl admits his guilt," Clohessy wrote. "But we’re sad because it’s unlikely we’ll ever learn which Louisville church staff knew of or suspected and ignored or hid Fr. Pohl’s crimes."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jo E. Lawless is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the Louisville Metro Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Cybercrimes Unit.
Lawless noted in court that the felony charge stems from images accessed online and do not feature any children from St. Margaret Mary.
The pornographic images investigators discovered were never downloaded to the computer, the complaint notes, but were viewed online by Pohl and detected through forensic analysis of the computer hard drives.
Pohl had told law enforcement "there were some items on his computer that probably should not be there" and that he had visited "inappropriate" websites, recalled an LMPD detective in a sworn affidavit.
The federal case began after a 10-year-old St. Margaret Mary student told his mother that "Father Steve" singled him out at an after-school club to take a series of "weird" photos on his cell phone. The youth posed with his hands on his knees and legs spread apart, following the priest's orders, according to the affidavit.
When the parents eventually confronted Pohl about the pictures, the affidavit details, they saw similar pictures of another child on the priest's phone and reported it to law enforcement.
Attorneys Annie O'Connell and John H. Harralson also represent Pohl, who has 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.
Reporter Matthew Glowicki can be reached at 502-582-4989 or firstname.lastname@example.org.