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Former Churchill priest convicted on child porn charges going to prison

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 3:46 p.m.
The Rev. Bart Sorensen

Avoiding detection for 10 years while committing crimes is not the same as leading a law-abiding life, a federal judge said on Wednesday in rejecting a Roman Catholic priest's plea for leniency in a child pornography case.

U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch sentenced the Rev. Bart Sorensen, 63, formerly of St. John Fisher Church in Churchill, to eight years and one month in prison.

Although Sorensen did not use his “position of trust, power and respect” to commit his crime, he used it to collect a photo album of children who attended church social events, the judge said.

“Child pornography could not exist without people like the defendant, who helped support it,” Bloch said.

He also sentenced Sorensen to five years of probation and ordered him to pay a $25,000 fine and register as a convicted sex offender.

Sorensen pleaded guilty to the charges in May.

The priest apologized to family, friends, parishioners and his fellow priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“I served as a priest of the diocese for 35 years,” he said. “Along the way, I betrayed that priesthood. I betrayed the bishop and the other priests.”

He also apologized to the church staff member who saw a pornographic image on his computer. Sorensen said he deliberately left it on the screen so she would see it and report it to the diocese so he could get help.

He did not realize it would lead to criminal charges, Sorensen told Bloch.

“I should have had the courage to go to the diocese myself, but I didn't,” the priest said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Haller said Sorensen demonstrated a strong sexual attraction to young boys and acted on that attraction by collecting images and videos.

Sorensen set up his own pornography library with more than 100 CDs marked with stars and asterisks to highlight the contents, he said. He also had books that argue in favor of the sexual abuse of children, Haller said.

“This is not a matter of a single mistake on a single day,” he said.

Sister Catherine Higgins asked Bloch to show Sorensen leniency because he has spent his lifetime showing compassion for others.

“The only person Father Bart has a hard time forgiving is himself,” Higgins said.

Three other people testified on Sorensen's behalf, and more than a dozen clergy and former parishioners wrote letters of support. About three dozen people attended Wednesday's hearing Downtown.

Pat Thomassey, Sorensen's lawyer, said that as a Catholic this was one of the most difficult cases he had handled.

“He is one of the most compassionate, remorseful men I've met in my life,” Thomassey told Bloch.

The diocese removed Sorensen from active ministry and placed him on administrative leave when it turned the matter over to police on Dec. 9, 2011.

The Rev. Ron Lengwin, a spokesman for the diocese, said Sorensen remains on administrative leave.

The diocese will send Sorensen's case to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for his possible dismissal from the clergy.

Brian Bowling is a staffwriter for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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