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Churchill priest arrested for possession of child pornography

| Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011

A Roman Catholic priest is in jail on charges that he possessed and viewed more than 100 images of young boys engaged in sexual activity on a computer housed in his church office, according to an arrest affidavit.

The Rev. Bart Sorensen, 62, of St. John Fisher Church in Churchill, was charged with possession of child pornography after a church staff member caught him viewing images on Friday, the affidavit states.

On Saturday, Sorensen was ordered held in the Allegheny County Jail on $100,000 unsecured bond, and he will be evaluated by the jail's behavioral clinic on Monday, officials said.

The diocese released a statement saying Sorensen had been removed from active ministry and was placed on administrative leave.

"The viewing of pornographic images involving children is a disturbing and criminal act. The Diocese of Pittsburgh is cooperating to the fullest extent in the investigation of this incident," according to the statement issued by the Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese. "Please keep in your prayers all victims of the tragedy of sexual abuse."

A female church employee said Sorensen was in his office at the church, located on Lewin Lane, on Friday, and she walked up the stairs and announced her presence before entering his office, the affidavit states.

She heard numerous "clicks" which she interpreted to be someone pressing a computer mouse, and when she walked into Sorensen's office she saw numerous screens open on his computer, with one image depicting a boy between 5 and 10 years old, partially clothed, in a sexual position with the words "Hottie Boys" written across the top, the affidavit states.

The woman said she was "appalled" and said to Sorensen, "Really?" to which he replied, "Oh yea."

The woman left immediately and said Sorensen came downstairs about 15 minutes later and "acted like nothing occurred."

The woman alerted diocesan officials, who called police.

Sorensen has only been at the church a short time, the woman told police, and since he arrived he has spent "hours upon hours on the computer in the office mostly with the door closed," according to the affidavit.

Lengwin said Sorensen was ordained in October 1976. He served as a priest at Mater Dolorosa in Chicora in Butler County in the 1990s and was at St. Victor Parish in Bairdford, West Deer Township, from 1999-2003, Lengwin said.

Sorensen took a personal leave from 2003 to 2004, which Lengwin said was related to the health of a family member. He was then appointed to serve as the chaplain at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield from 2004-2011, when the hospital disbanded its chaplaincy program.

He was transferred to a chaplain position at St. Anne's Parish in Castle Shannon until November of this year when a priest vacancy opened at St. John Fisher, Lengwin said.

"We've never had any allegation like this surface against anyone before, and we're investigating fully Father Sorensen's time with the diocese," Lengwin said. "He has never had any complaints against him."

The church employee told police Sorensen's computer is a desktop with a "big screen" that she believed he owned because it was not hooked up to the church's computer system.

Detectives with the Allegheny County Police received a search warrant for the rectory office and while there, Sorensen agreed to talk. He admitted he possessed and viewed more than 100 images of child pornography involving prepubescent males, according to the affidavit.

A forensic preview of the computer's hard drive found several still images of young boys either posing naked or engaged in sexual activity with other prepubescent males or adult males, the affidavit states. Allegheny County police did not release further details of the photos.

Parishioners at St. Anne's found the allegations against Sorensen difficult to believe.

"I was falsely accused of something once, and a lot of people believed what they heard. I think all the facts need to come out before people sit in judgment," said David Herzog, 59, of Castle Shannon.

Bob Topoleski, 53, of Mt. Lebanon, worked closely with Sorensen during his time at the parish and helped out during Masses.

"Nothing would give any indication that he would ever do anything like that," Topoleski said.

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