Former Churchill priest convicted on child porn charges going to prison
By Brian Bowling
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 3:46 p.m.
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 email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Nelson Mandela: The real legacy
- Penguins’ Orpik taken off ice on stretcher in loss to Bruins
- Breaking down the Pirates’ needs entering winter meetings
- State police kill knife-wielding suspect in child abduction from Brentwood
- Steelers still have something worth playing for
- Rossi: Penguins’ Orpik among select NHLers going without gluten
- Kovacevic: On Melancon, Mandela, molding
- Donora woman found dead in burning home
- Robinson: Video review reveals Steelers coach’s sideline movements in Baltimore were out of character
- Little change in small-town life
- Controversial Rooney Rule has opened door for NFL minority coaching candidates