Father James Jackson sentenced to 6 years in prison for child pornography — By: Catholic News Agency

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Providence, R.I., Dec 13, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Traditional Latin Mass priest Father James Jackson was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison and five years of probation after he pleaded guilty to a child pornography charge in June.

Judge William Smith, sitting in U.S. District Court in Providence, Rhode Island, gave Jackson a sentence a year longer than was recommended by both the prosecution and his defense attorney, citing his role of “authority” and “responsibility” as a Catholic priest.

Jackson, 68, a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), was originally arrested in October 2021 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Providence, Rhode Island, where he was serving as pastor. The arrest came after an investigation into him by state law enforcement found child pornography on his laptop and external hard drive.

Smith also cited Jackson’s violation of his pre-rial release when he was living in Kansas with his sister and viewed more child sexual abuse material.

“You are more than familiar with the concept of free will,” Smith said. “I think you had free will in making that decision about whether to reengage with this material.”

In addition to paying restitution to victims, Jackson will have to register as a sex offender when he is released from prison. Jackson requested — and the judge said he would recommend — that he serve his prison time in Kansas where his sister, Susan Whitfield, lives.

Whitfield and another supporter of Jackson’s were in the courtroom on Wednesday. A white-bearded Jackson, wearing a yellow and brown jumpsuit, looked down for most of the hearing.

In a statement before the court, Jackson said he was glad that the police caught him and stopped him from committing this “heinous crime and horrible sin.”

He apologized to all law enforcement who had to view the “filth” of child pornography while investigating the case. He also said he was sorry for all the people he has hurt including children, family, friends, colleagues, brother priests, former parishioners, former students, the Church, the country, and his “savior.”

“So, I ask for only one thing, it’s this: that anyone who is here today who hears this or others who hear of it on the outside, that they would pray for me, for this intention, that the repentance and penitence which I began some time ago before my incarceration, that that will continue and not just continue but grow deeper and be even perfected,” Jackson said.

He added that he is “utterly ashamed” and “bitterly” regrets viewing the material. “I hope that I will persevere in that repentance and penitence till the end of my days,” he said.

Jackson’s sentencing marks an end to more than two years of federal legal proceedings involving the priest who was held in high esteem as a spiritual leader, an expert on the traditional form of the Mass, and a friend to many of his former parishioners and brother priests in the traditionalist religious community.

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. 

CNA reached out to Jackson’s lawyer, John Calcagni, for comment but did not hear back by time of publication. A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office said a press release would be issued on Wednesday.

After Jackson’s arrests in Rhode Island in 2021, he was initially charged with both federal and state offenses, but the state charges were dropped as a procedural move in January 2022. 

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. 

Under the terms of his release from federal court in November 2021, Jackson was allowed to return to his home state of Kansas to live with his sister while waiting for the charges to be adjudicated.

While in Kansas, an additional child pornography investigation into Jackson was conducted by a local police department. Jackson’s federal probation officer issued a petition to the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island alleging that the priest broke the conditions of his pretrial release while he was allowed to live in Leawood, Kansas, with his sister.

In the petition, Jackson’s probation officer, David A. Picozzi, said that the U.S. Probation Office in the District of Rhode Island was contacted by Overland Park Police Department Detective Christopher Moore on July 11, 2022.

Moore told the office that there was a search warrant issued for Jackson’s residence in Leawood “in response to a child pornography investigation in which Mr. Jackson was the primary target,” the petition says.

U.S. Marshals arrested him and brought him back to the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where he has remained in custody.

A spokesman for the Overland Park Police Department told CNA in May that Jackson will be charged with a crime once the charges in Rhode Island are adjudicated. 

A spokeswoman for the Johnson County District Attorney’s office in Olathe, Kansas, told CNA Tuesday that charges have not yet been filed.

court document filed in December revealed that Jackson told authorities in his pre-sentence investigation interview that he was sexually abused as a child by the mother of another child in his Boy Scout Troop when he was 10 years old.

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. 

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