PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - A Catholic priest pleaded not guilty on Friday to federal child pornography on suspicion of possessing thousands of images of young boys engaged in sex acts.
Rev. Bartley Sorensen, 62, former pastor of St. John Fisher Church in Churchill near Pittsburgh, arrived at his arraignment in U.S. District Court wearing hand and leg shackles and in the custody of U.S. Marshals.
He pleaded not guilty to two counts of receiving and possessing child pornography.
He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of receiving child pornography on a computer and up to 10 years behind bars for possession of child pornography.
After swearing to Chief Magistrate Lisa Pupo Lenihan he would return for every court appearance or pay $50,000, Sorensen left court with orders to remain under house arrest and wear an electronic anklet.
The judge also barred Sorensen from access to a computer and from any unsupervised contact with children.
Sorensen was already charged in state court for child pornography when a federal grand jury indicted him earlier this week.
An arrest affidavit said a female church worker saw him view an image on his computer of a boy, who appeared to be 5 to 10 years old and naked from the waist down, under the caption “Hottie Boys.” Subsequent police searches of Sorensen’s church office turned up 5,000 images, authorities said.
“I still don’t understand the federal interest in this case,” said Sorensen’s lawyer Patrick Thomassey. “He was already arrested and processed by the state.”
State charges against Sorensen have been dismissed, authorities said.
Allegheny County police arrested Sorensen on December 10 and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh removed him from active ministry and placed him on administrative leave.
He had been transferred to the post at St. John Fisher Church just three weeks before his arrest.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Daniel Trotta