Suspended priest is sentenced in child porn case

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The Rev. Bartley Sorensen claimed at sentencing today that he meant to be caught with child pornography, and didn't realize then that collecting such images was a crime.

U.S. District Judge Alan N. Bloch showed him just how big of an oversight that was, sentencing him to eight years and one month in prison.

Sorensen, 63, who was assigned to St. John Fisher Parish in Churchill several weeks before a parish secretary walked in and saw images on his computer screen, said he "decided not to get rid of what was on the computer" as the employee climbed the stairs to his office. "I knew that my sin had to be known. What I did not know is that it was also a crime."

Judge Bloch said the priest had "been viewing images of sexually abused children for the last 10 years of his life," and had a collection of some 5,000 files on 100 computer disks. He said that although Sorensen never touched a child inappropriately, collecting such images is "just as harmful and dangerous to children as if he had been abusing them himself.

"He certainly allowed his position to fuel his desires," the judge said, noting that the priest kept a photo album of children at social functions he attended.

Diocese spokesman Father Ron Lengwin said that Sorensen has been on administrative leave since the diocese turned the matter over to law enforcement. Now the diocese will forward the matter to the Vatican for Sorensen's possible dismissal from the clergy.

Sorensen shook and clasped his hands, head bowed, as the terms of his sentence were read.

After his sentence is up, Sorensen must be under federal supervision for five years, with no contact with children. He was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine.

Sorensen's attorney, Patrick Thomassey, argued that he should get the five-year minimum sentence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Haller sought a term of eight to 10 years.

Several priests, a nun and a former FBI agent spoke to Sorensen's character.

"I just don't think prison's where people who are sick should be," said Jack O'Malley, the chaplain for the local AFL-CIO. "I would've liked to see him get more help."

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord


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