PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - A Catholic priest already charged in state court with possessing thousands of pornographic images of young boys is due in a Pittsburgh courtroom on Friday on new federal charges, authorities said.
A federal grand jury, in an indictment unsealed late on Wednesday, charged the Reverend Bartley Sorensen, 62, former pastor of St. John Fisher Church in Churchill near Pittsburgh, with one count each of receiving and possessing pictures of minors engaged in sex acts.
If convicted of the federal charges, Sorensen faces up to 20 years in prison for receiving child pornography on a computer and up to 10 years behind bars for possession of child pornography.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton said an investigation will continue jointly between the FBI and Allegheny County Police after Sorensen appears before a federal magistrate on Friday.
A parish employee who had undergone training to identify sexual predators allegedly saw Sorensen viewing child pornography on his computer and called the church child abuse hotline.
An arrest affidavit said the female employee saw the image of a boy, who appeared to be 5 to 10 years old and naked from the waist down, under the caption “Hottie Boys” on the priest’s computer in his residence.
Sorensen had been transferred to St. John Fisher Church in Churchill three weeks earlier.
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.
County police conducted two searches of Sorensen’s church office, where they reported finding 5,000 images on three CDs as well as additional images and videos.
The images included young boys either posing naked or engaged in sexual activity with other prepubescent males or adult males, according to affidavits filed in state court.
After his arrest, Sorensen waived his right to a preliminary hearing in state court and was released on a $100,000 bond. Police said he admitted using his personal computer at the Churchill parish to look at least 100 images of child pornography.
The federal indictment seeks forfeiture of a desktop computer, a digital camera, more than 100 CDs, DVDs, books and photo albums seized by county detectives in prior searches.
Asked about the federal indictment, Sorensen’s attorney Patrick Thomassey said: “It seems like the federal government should have bigger and better things to do.”
He said Sorensen was under house arrest and “his life has been destroyed already.”
A spokeswoman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) expressed relief over the federal indictment.
“Law enforcement are the proper officials to be investigating sex crimes against kids, not church officials,” said Judy Jones, the Midwest associate director of SNAP.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh confirmed that Sorensen was ordained in 1976, and subsequently served in three parishes and a hospital in western Pennsylvania, before coming to St. John Fisher in November 2011.
Responding to the federal indictment, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said: “As has been seen all too often, this is a tragedy that exists in every level of society and requires constant vigilance... My prayers are for all that have been victims of this pernicious exploitation.”
Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Peter Bohan and Cynthia Johnston