Bartley Sorenson, a 63 year-old former pastor of St. John Fisher Church in Churchill plead guilty in May to receiving and possessing over 5,000 sexually explicit images of young children. According to reports, the images were of young boys either posing naked or engaged in sexual activity with other boys or adult males. Sorenson had recently been transferred to St. John Fisher Church three weeks before his arrest.
Before Sorenson was sentenced he told Senior U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch, "I served the diocese for 35 years. Along the way I betrayed the priesthood, I betrayed the bishop, and the other priests in the diocese." He also apologized for shaming his friends, family, and former parishioners.
Sorenson was arrested in December 2011 after a parish employee saw him viewing child pornography on the rectory computer and immediately reported it to the Catholic Child Abuse hotline on Dec. 9, 2011. Coincidentally, the parish employee who caught Sorenson was trained to identify sexual predators.
He claimed he knew the parish employee was coming to his office and would see the image. He wanted to get caught to get counseling but did not realize the criminal ramifications until the police arrived to question him. "I knew that my sin had to be known." Sorenson stated.
Bishop David A. Zubik, Bishop of Pittsburgh, suspended Sorenson after his arrest and released a statement saying, "As has been seen all too often, this is a tragedy that exists in every level of society and requires constant vigilance... My prayers are for all that have been victims of this pernicious exploitation."
At first, he denied viewing the pornographic websites citing a favor for a parishioner who allegedly found his daughter looking at the site and asked Sorenson to check it out for him. Eventually, Sorenson admitted he had been viewing internet child pornography for about 10 years. He acknowledged preferring images of boys in their early teens but sometimes viewed images of boys as young as 4 years-old.
Patrick Thomassey, Sorenson's defense attorney, contended that Sorenson obtained those images for personal use only. He never shared the images with anyone else and he never molested a child. There is no evidence that Sorenson actually molested a child but possessing child pornography is still a crime. Thomassey was aiming for a lighter sentence when he wrote in a pre-sentencing motion,
"There is no evidence of file-sharing or swapping and there is no evidence that Sorenson ever engaged in any improper conduct with a child. Sorenson cooperated with investigating agents and told them how he accessed the child pornography."
Judge Bloch sentenced Sorenson to 97 months (approximately 8 years) in federal prison, followed by 5 years of supervised release. Sorenson has also been ordered to pay a $25,000 fine. He faced a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.
Immediately after Sorenson's guilty plea, Thomassey stated, " It's draconian that people go to jail just for possessing this stuff."
Thomassey also commented after the sentencing,
"People who produce this (expletive) -- lock them up forever. But the poor guy who starts looking at this stuff in the privacy of his own home? It doesn't make any sense to me."
Whether it makes sense to Mr. Thomassey or not doesn't matter, it is in fact a crime to possess child pornography. As Mr. Bloch stated, "viewing child pornography is not a victimless crime."