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PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (LifeSiteNews) — Father James Jackson, 68, of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and former pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Providence, Rhode Island, was sentenced to six years in prison and five years of probation for child pornography after he pleaded guilty in June.

READ: Priest pleads guilty to child pornography charge in exchange for reduced sentence

Judge William Smith of the U.S. District Court in Providence, Rhode Island, imposed a sentence a year longer than the five-year minimum prison time recommended by both the prosecution and defense attorneys in a plea deal. The judge told the priest he was “strongly inclined” to impose a heavier sentence given his “authority” and “responsibility” as a member of the Catholic clergy.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island, in addition to prison time and probation, “pursuant to federal law, the Court imposed special assessments of $17,000 (The Amy, Vicky and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act of 2018), and $5,000 (The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015). In addition, the Court indicated it will order restitution to specific victims in approximately thirty days.”

Admission of guilt and apology

In a handwritten letter dated August 6 addressed to his priestly superiors and submitted to the court, Jackson confessed his guilt and shame for his crime, committing to make reparation and do lifelong penance.

“The vile sin into which I fell, and for which I am guilty, has caused immeasurable harm,” the priest admitted.

I have sinned against God, children, you, friends and family, former students and former parishioners and many others besides. I cannot repair this damage, but I must try. I hope you will accept this apology.

I’m sorry at a level I’ve never experienced before. I’m ashamed beyond any shame I’ve known. I will be offering reparations, penances, and what good works I can for you, long after I am dismissed from the Fraternity, and praying for you, in a reformed life, until my dying day.

Jackson’s letter accompanied a December 11 sentencing memorandum filed in federal court. On June 8, 2023, he pleaded guilty to the felony crime of “receipt of child pornography, admitting to a federal judge that he downloaded files of child sexual abuse using a peer-to-peer-file-sharing network.”

In the memo, Jackson said that because of his crime, he has been “involuntarily removed from the priesthood but has not abandoned his faith.” He admitted that his behavior had been “hypocritical” and “completely unbecoming of a devout Catholic and more so, a clergyman.”

Apologizing to all law enforcement involved in the case for having had to view the “filth” of the child pornography he had obtained, Jackson said he was glad to have been caught and stopped in his “heinous crime and horrible sin.”

“So, I ask for only one thing, it’s this: that anyone who is here today who hears this or others who hear of it on the outside, that they would pray for me, for this intention, that the repentance and penitence which I began some time ago before my incarceration, that that will continue and not just continue but grow deeper and be even perfected,” Jackson said. “I hope that I will persevere in that repentance and penitence till the end of my days.”

The memo to the court stated that Jackson “rightfully confessed his sins associated with the crimes in this case, just as he pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility before this Court.”

The memo also revealed that Jackson had himself been sexually molested as a young boy. “While there is no excuse or justification for Mr. Jackson’s admitted misconduct, such is not without explanation. As a young boy, while participating in Boy Scouts, Mr. Jackson was molested,” the memo said. It continued:

These events were not timely reported or disclosed to anyone, foreclosing the possibility of young James receiving proper care or treatment for his trauma. In any event, these experiences shaped and socialized him, at least partially, into the man he is today.

Mr. Jackson channeled that trauma and addressed it by pursuing and viewing child pornography. His doing so resulted in the development of an addiction to these obscene visual depictions, which explains how and why he comes before this Court.

The horror of the crime

In the December 11 memo to the court, federal prosecutors wrote:

The victims in this case are real children who were raped and molested in order to provide sexual gratification for the defendant. By repeatedly downloading and viewing child sexual abuse material for his own gratification, this defendant engaged in repeated acts of dehumanization which re-victimized the children.

More than 12,000 images and videos depicting child sexual abuse were located on the defendant’s computers. These materials included pre-pubescent minors, sadistic and masochistic conduct, and bestiality. Through his reprehensible conduct, the defendant fueled the market for child sexual abuse material and further harmed the victims.

According to prosecutors, 190 victims could be identified in the cache of the priest’s images and videos.

One victim stated to the court regarding her abuse:

I live everyday with the horrible knowledge that many people somewhere are watching the most terrifying moments of my life and taking grotesque pleasure in them. I am a victim of the worst kind of exploitation: child porn. Unlike other forms of exploitation, this one is never ending. Every day, people are trading and sharing videos of me as a little girl being raped in the most sadistic ways. They don’t know me, but they have seen every part of me. They are being entertained by my pain and shame.

According to the prosecutors, a “particularly disturbing fact in this case is the defendant’s position of authority as a Catholic priest and pastor. As such, the defendant was looked up to by many as paragon of moral authority.”

The memo noted Jackson’s propensity to commit the same crimes again, given the fact that he downloaded child pornography even after he was arrested for the crime.

“This defendant clearly has some form of addictive personality,” the memo stated. “To engage in downloading child sexual abuse material while under the supervision of a federal court, shortly after being arrested for the same conduct, demonstrates either a flagrant disregard for the Court’s authority or an inability to control one’s own behavior. Either explanation creates a high risk of recidivism.”

Jackson’s first arrest came in October 2021 while the priest was serving as pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Providence, Rhode Island. The arrest came when state law enforcement tracked down child pornography downloading to his laptop and external hard drive.

After the arrest, Jackson violated his pre-trial release while living in Kansas with his sister by viewing more child pornography.

“You are more than familiar with the concept of free will,” Judge Smith told the priest in rebuke. “I think you had free will in making that decision about whether to reengage with this material.”

Abuse as a child

In a character statement to the court, Jackson’s older sister, Susan Whitfield, testified that her brother had only revealed the abuse to her on a prison visit she paid him while he awaited sentencing. She said the news gave her “grief, horror, and rage.”

She testified that her brother fell into a life of “drug use and sexual wildness” beginning in junior high school and lasting into college. She said that while in college, she discovered he had become sexually active “very early, I believe at 13,” and that he once took LSD “laced with strychnine” and had to be admitted to the hospital.

Whitfield said her brother’s studies suffered greatly in college because “he seemed uninterested in much of anything except the wild partying.” This came to an end, she said, when he joined the University of Kansas’ Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, which has long held a reputation for bringing many persons to enter the Catholic Church and religious life. Jackson himself, who was Protestant, converted to Catholicism and afterward entered the priesthood in the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), dedicated to the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Appearance of integrity as a priest

In another letter of character testimony, dated July 31 and filed with the December 11 memo, Abbot Philip Anderson of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma wrote that he had known Jackson since 1979 and that he “always impressed me as a man, not only of integrity, but of exceptional virtue and talent.”

“Never did I see even the slightest hint that he would be delving into the dark world of porn,” Anderson said. “James has shown a great willingness to help others in any situation. I am told he is well-respected by most of the prisoners around him in his current place of incarceration. He [has] written to me in a letter that he started a campaign to get his fellow prisoners to stop blaspheming.”

“I believe that James can still be of great help to society and that the court would be doing a truly good deed in favor of the common good to use leniency in sentencing him,” the Abbot of Clear Creek wrote.

After Jackson pleaded guilty in June, the FSSP said in a statement:

Until Father Jackson was arrested, the Fraternity of St. Peter was not aware of anything in his words or behavior that could give rise to suspicion concerning such actions. Crimes of this type are execrable, and Catholics should pray for the victims of pornography and work to put an end to its industry.

As part of Wednesday’s sentence, Smith ordered Jackson to undertake sex-offender treatment and that he submit to unannounced searches of his electronic devices during the five-year probation after his prison time. He was forbidden to have contact with minors or to loiter in areas where children gather.

Jackson is expected to face state charges in Kansas for accessing child pornography in the state now that the federal trial has been completed. The investigation for that case was conducted when the priest was living there on bond with his sister.