Court documents reveal Father James Jackson said he was sexually abused as a child — By: Catholic News Agency

Father James Jackson, FSSP, appearing at a Nov. 15, 2021, arraignment before the Rhode Island District Court. / Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA

Boston, Mass., Dec 11, 2023 / 17:52 pm (CNA).

New court documents reveal that Traditional Latin Mass priest Father James Jackson, who pleaded guilty to a federal child pornography charge in June, told authorities he was sexually abused as a child.

Additionally, a statement from his sister filed with the court said that Jackson engaged in a life of drugs, alcohol, and “sexual wildness” as a young person.

Jackson signed a plea agreement in June admitting to a single charge of receipt of child pornography, while prosecutors moved to dismiss a second count of possession of child pornography. That agreement isn’t official until the judge accepts it at sentencing, which is set for Dec. 13 at 1 p.m. in Providence, Rhode Island, in the U.S. District Court.

News of his arrest in October 2021 shocked many of his friends, supporters, and former parishioners, with many who saw Jackson as a holy priest rushing to his defense. 

Jackson claimed in his pre-sentence investigation interview that he was molested by the mother of another child in his Boy Scout Troop when he was just 10 years old, one court document said.

The U.S. attorney, John McAdams, wrote that it is impossible to verify Jackson’s claim, but “[a]ssuming the truth of the accusation, it does not justify the defendant’s reprehensible conduct.”

Sex, drugs, and ‘continual defiance’ in his youth

Jackson’s older sister, Susan Whitfield, filed a statement of support with the court, in which she testified that her brother had revealed the abuse to her when she visited him while he was incarcerated awaiting adjudication of the charge.

The revelation, she said, brought her “grief, horror, and rage.”

She testified that she believes the “anger, shame, and pain” from Jackson’s abuse led him to a life of “drug use and sexual wildness” from junior high school through college.

Whitfield said that she discovered in college that Jackson had become sexually active “very early, I believe at 13.”

She described a “continual defiance” during his teenage years that included drug and alcohol use. During her junior year of college, she discovered that Jackson had taken LSD “laced with strychnine” and was admitted to the hospital.

She described his grades in college as “abysmal” and said that “he seemed uninterested in much of anything except the wild partying.”

Whitfield said that Jackson stopped partying and began excelling academically when he joined the University of Kansas’ Pearson Integrated Humanities Program (IHP), which gained a reputation for producing many Catholic converts and some religious vocations.

Jackson, coming from a Protestant background, converted to Catholicism and then sought out the priesthood, his sister wrote. She described his life as a priest as one of “constant sacrifice and generosity” and thanked the court “in spite of his guilt” for considering “what a good man James Ward Jackson is and has always been.”

Whitfield also revealed that her brother suffered from an acoustic neuroma at some point during his priesthood. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, an acoustic neuroma is a noncancerous tumor that grows slowly on a nerve that leads from the brain to the inner ear. It can be life-threatening if untreated.

Words of support for Jackson

Whitfield and several other supporters — among them priests, religious, friends, and former parishioners — wrote letters to the court attesting to Jackson’s character, some asking for a leniency in sentencing, with others denying his guilt.

“He always impressed me as a man, not only of integrity but of exceptional virtue and talent,” Abbot Philip Anderson of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert, Oklahoma, wrote to the court in a three-page statement describing their almost 50-year friendship.

“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,” he wrote.

Another of Jackson’s friends, a fraternity priest, Father Justin Nolan, wrote: “It is incomprehensible to me that Father Jackson could be guilty of the crimes he has pled guilty to and I can only believe that it was in the face of possible life imprisonment that compelled him to do so.” 

Included in court documents is Jackson’s Aug. 6 written apology to his community, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

“The vile sin into which I fell, and for which I am guilty, has caused immeasurable harm,” Jackson, the former pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Providence, Rhode Island, wrote. 

“I have sinned against God, children, you, friends, and family, former students and former parishioners and many others besides,” he wrote.

“I cannot repair this damage, but I must try,” he wrote. “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,” he wrote. 

After the federal charges in Rhode Island are adjudicated, Jackson is expected to face state charges in Kansas related to an additional child pornography investigation. That investigation was conducted when Jackson was living on bond in Kansas with his sister. 

After the local investigation was communicated to federal authorities, Jackson was subsequently arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service and has been in custody at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

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