A Catholic priest who served at St. Ferdinand’s Church in Cranberry decades ago has been sentenced to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty to possessing thousands of pornographic images of children on his computer.
U.S. District Judge Alan N. Bloch imposed the sentence Wednesday on the Rev. Bartley Sorensen, who was removed from active ministry and placed on administrative leave shortly after his arrest in December 2011.
Once his sentence is complete, Sorensen will be under federal supervision for five years. He also was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine.
Sorensen, 63, was assigned to Saint John Fisher Parish in Churchill prior to his arrest. According to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, he also was first Parochial Vicar at St. Ferdinand Catholic Church in Cranberry from Nov. 1, 1976 to June 29, 1981.
He was charged with violating federal child sexual exploitation laws after a St. John parish employee observed him viewing an image on his computer screen of a young boy wearing nothing but a shirt. On the screen were the words "Hottie Boys," KDKA reported.
The employee promptly reported what she observed to the Catholic Child Abuse Hotline, U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton said in a statement.
During a search of the St. John rectory, investigators seized more than 100 CDs, most of which were loaded with thousands of images of children being sexually abused, Hickton said.
One of the images depicted a nude male child with a rope around his genitals and what appeared to be blood on his genitals, according to investigators.
"This case is particularly disturbing because it involves a priest, a man in a position of great trust, viewing horrific and degrading images of children,” Hickton said after Sorensen pleaded guilty to the charge in May. “Consumers of these violent sexual images fuel the production of more images, and the demand for increasingly extreme content. This is not a 'victimless' crime."
During his sentencing Wednesday, Sorensen claimed he wanted to be caught but did not know collecting child pornography was a crime, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Patrick Thomassey, Sorensen’s attorney, had argued his client should receive the minimum sentence of five years, the Post-Gazette reports. The maximum sentence for the charges is 10 years.
Sorensen’s future as a priest remains to be seen. Now that sentencing is complete, the diocese will forward the issue to the Vatican for Sorensen's possible dismissal from the clergy, according to the Post-Gazette.
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