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Priest pleads guilty to child porn charges, faces at least 5-year sentence

Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette –

A suspended Catholic priest will spend at least five years in federal prison after pleading guilty Wednesday to possessing and receiving thousands of child porn images on his rectory computer.

Rev. Bartley Sorensen, 63, of St. John Fisher Church in Churchill, admitted his guilt before Senior U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch, who set sentencing for Sept. 13.

Father Sorensen faces a range of five to 30 years behind bars, but must serve at least five years.

He said nothing in court except to acknowledge Judge Bloch’s questions and then waved to his two brothers in the gallery before U.S. marshals led him away in handcuffs.

Father Sorensen will be held in custody at an Ohio facility until sentencing.

He was caught Dec. 9 when a church employee saw him looking at a picture of a nearly naked boy on his computer and called a church child abuse hotline.

Allegheny County detectives and the FBI began an investigation that turned up thousands of child porn images on CDs, DVDs, books and photo albums in the church residence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Haller said Father Sorensen lied when detectives first searched the rectory and questioned him on Dec. 9. Asked about the child porn image the employee saw on the computer, he said that he was examining it at the request of a parishioner whose young daughter had accessed the porn site.

He also told police he’d never looked at child porn before.

A quick review of his online history proved otherwise, after which he said he had been looking at porn for two weeks, Mr. Haller said.

But that was a lie, too. After he was arrested, he admitted he had been accessing child porn for 10 years, saying he looked at some boys as young as 4 but preferred boys ages 13, 14 and 15.

A second search of the rectory and living space on Dec. 12 turned up more than 100 porn CDs, books and photo albums, and a forensic search of his computer revealed that he had done numerous porn searches.

There is no evidence that Father Sorensen molested any children.

“He never touched a child,” said his lawyer, Patrick Thomassey, who complained that federal penalties for child porn possession are “draconian.”

But he said his client had no real choice but to plead guilty.

“Basically, we don’t have a defense to these kinds of cases,” he said.

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