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Priest pleads not guilty to child porn charges

Brian Bowling
| Friday, Jan. 6, 2012

A Catholic priest pleaded not guilty today in federal court to possessing thousands of pornographic images of young boys.

The Rev. Bart Sorensen, 62, formerly of St. John Fisher Church in Churchill, was released on $50,000 unsecured bond, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan ordered him placed on home confinement with electronic monitoring.

Sorensen declined comment after his arraignment. His attorney, Patrick Thomassey, said it was unusual for a child pornography case to get transferred from state to federal court. The cases that usually get transferred are gun- and drug-related, he said.

"I still don't really understand the federal interest in this case," he said.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton said Wednesday, when the federal indictment against Sorensen was unsealed, that protecting children from exploitation, particularly by people in positions of trust, is a priority for his office.

Allegheny County District Attorney's Office detectives arrested Sorensen on Dec. 10, saying a parish employee called a church child abuse hotline after seeing Sorensen view child pornography on his computer. Sorensen, who waived his preliminary hearing before a district judge, is free on $100,000 bond on state charges of possession of child pornography.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh removed Sorensen from active ministry and placed him on administrative leave on Dec. 9.

Authorities said they found 5,000 pictures on three CDs they took from his church office during an initial search and additional images and videos they found during a second search. The District Attorney's detective's affidavit said several of the images included young boys posing naked or engaged in sexual activity.

The two federal charges against Sorensen are receiving and possessing child pornography.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said it anticipates the state dropping its charges against Sorensen now that he's charged federally. Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala, declined comment other than to say that those charges are still pending.

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