Prosecutors will seek the mandatory minimum of five years in prison and will move to dismiss a second count of possession of child pornography.
Traditional Latin Mass priest Father James Jackson pleaded guilty to a federal child pornography charge Thursday and now must wait to find out how long he might spend in prison.
In a plea agreement he signed ahead of his scheduled June 20 trial, Father Jackson, 68, a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), admitted to a single charge of receipt of child pornography. U.S. District Court Judge William Smith, sitting in Providence, Rhode Island, set a sentencing date of Sept. 11.
Prosecutors will seek the mandatory minimum of five years in prison and will move to dismiss a second count of possession of child pornography, Jim Rosenberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told CNA. Each charge carried a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
The priest must still face pending criminal charges related to a child pornography investigation in Kansas, authorities there have said.
Father Jackson, then just three months into his assignment as pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Providence, was arrested on Oct. 30, 2021, after an investigation by a state computer crimes task force. Jackson previously served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado.
According to an affidavit, investigators obtained a warrant to search his rectory in Providence where they found large amounts of child sex abuse material stored on an external hard drive in an office near Father Jackson’s bedroom.
Father Jackson’s order issued a statement Thursday following his guilty plea.
“The North American Province of the Fraternity of St. Peter is aware that on June 8, 2023, Father James Jackson entered a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced sentence. The Fraternity of St. Peter pledges to cooperate with civil and ecclesiastical authorities in this case,” the statement said.
“Father Jackson has not had faculties to function publicly as a priest since his arrest in October 2021. Until Father Jackson was arrested, the Fraternity of St. Peter was not aware of anything in his words or behavior that could give rise to suspicion concerning such actions,” the statement said. “Crimes of this type are execrable, and Catholics should pray for the victims of pornography and work to put an end to its industry.”
Father Jackson appeared in court June 8 wearing a light brown prison outfit over a brown long-sleeve shirt. He wore glasses and had a white beard. One of Father Jackson’s supporters was present in the courtroom.
During the hearing, Father Jackson listened quietly as Assistant U.S. Attorney John McAdams presented the government’s case against him, describing in detail several videos of child pornography that were in the priest’s possession.
When questioned by the judge if he had heard and agreed with the facts presented, he responded, “Yes, your honor.”
Asked how he wished to plead to the charge, Father Jackson responded, “Guilty, your honor.”
Father Jackson’s supporters rallied around the priest after his arrest, contributing tens of thousands of dollars for his defense.
Kansas Charges Pending
The Kansas investigation of Father Jackson, conducted by a local police department in Overland Park, began sometime after he was allowed to return to the midwestern state to live with a relative while waiting for the federal charges to be adjudicated.
Officer John Lacy, a spokesman for the Overland Park Police Department, told CNA in May that Jackson would be charged with a crime once the charges in Rhode Island were adjudicated. He said that an investigation was ongoing but he would not elaborate on the nature of the charge.
Lacy said that the state charge would be brought by the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office in Olathe, Kansas.
In response to the Kansas investigation, Father Jackson’s federal probation officer issued a petition to the U.S. District Court in Providence alleging that the priest broke the conditions of his pretrial release that allowed him to live in Leawood, Kansas, with his sister.
U.S. marshals arrested Father Jackson in Kansas in July 2022 and brought him back to the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island.
At an Oct. 3 hearing in U.S. District Court in Providence, Jackson admitted that the government could prove that he violated the condition of his pretrial release prohibiting him from “possessing any materials including videos, magazines, photographs, computer-generated depictions, or any other forms that depict sexually explicit conduct involving children,” Rosenberg, the U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman, told CNA.
Father Jackson also admitted that the government could prove that he violated the condition prohibiting him from having access to more than one internet-connected device, the spokesman said.
“To be very clear — he did NOT admit that he committed the new crime, only that the government could establish probable cause that he did,” Rosenberg emphasized in an email to CNA.