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“No plea” entered on Providence priest’s behalf amid federal child pornography charges

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Father James Jackson, FSSP, appearing at a Nov. 15 arraignment before the Rhode Island District Court. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Providence, R.I., Nov 15, 2021 / 10:58 am (CNA).

A District Court judge on Monday entered “no plea” on behalf of Father James Jackson, FSSP, a Rhode Island-based priest who is facing federal child pornography charges. The priest’s next court appearance has been set for Jan. 2022. 

Jackson, who until recently was pastor at a parish in suburban Denver, is facing three charges consisting of possession of child pornography, transfer of child pornography, and child erotica prohibited.

Judge James Caruolo, an associate judge of the Rhode Island District Court, entered “no plea” during Jackson’s arraignment Nov. 15. 

Speaking on background, a general operations assistant at the court told CNA that “no plea” in Jackson’s case is a formality. Because child pornography offenses fall under federal charges, the case is out of the District Court’s jurisdiction and will be handled by the Superior Court.

After the arraignment, Jackson’s lawyer, John Calcagni III, declined to make a statement about the case to reporters.

Jackson, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), became pastor at St. Mary’s parish in Providence Aug. 1. Prior to that assignment, Jackson spent 15 years at the FSSP apostolate at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado.

Jackson was arrested on Oct. 30 by the Rhode Island State Police after a months-long investigation by Rhode Island State Police Computer Crimes Units/Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. 

The state police had executed a search warrant that day at the parish and arrested Jackson after determining that he was the owner of large amounts of pornographic material found on an external hard drive in an office area near his bedroom, an affidavit states. 

The police task force also revealed that an internet subscriber geolocated to St. Mary’s rectory shared child sexual abuse material via the peer-to-peer network on four occasions between Sept. 4 and Oct. 17, 2021. 

“These image and video files depicted prepubescent females, including infants and toddlers, engaged in sexual acts,” the affidavit states.

In addition to state-level charges, federal authorities filed child pornography charges of their own against Jackson on Nov. 3 after his initial arrest.

Distributing child pornography is punishable by a statutory penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison, with a minimum mandatory term of incarceration of five years. Possessing and accessing with intent to view child pornography is punishable by up to 20 years of incarceration.

Jackson’s bail was set at $5000. He is required to surrender his passport and any firearms. Jackson is not allowed to have any contact with minors under the age of 18, and his internet use is restricted to business and legal means. The judge gave Jackson permission to leave the state of Rhode Island.  

The court website shows that Jackson is scheduled to appear for a 9 a.m. pre-arraignment conference on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2022. A pre-arraignment hearing is a procedural hearing discussing the different charges against Jackson before a judge and the federal prosecutor. 

Jackson, wearing lay clothes consisting of a collared shirt, jacket, and Khaki pants, did not speak during the proceeding, except for a handful of times when he affirmed the judge’s yes or no questions. Since his arrest, Jackson has not spoken publicly on his case. 

Jackson made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Providence via teleconference Nov. 3 on a federal criminal complaint charging him with distributing child pornography, and possessing and accessing with intent to view child pornography.

Jackson was released from custody with electronic monitoring Nov. 3 on an unsecured bond. A federal magistrate has permitted him to live with a relative in his home state of Kansas until the charges against him are adjudicated, though a Providence television station has reported that Jackson has COVID-19 and must fully recover before leaving Rhode Island.

The 66-year-old priest is author of the book on the Traditional Latin Mass, “Nothing Superfluous” and an avid writer, which can be seen clearly in his recent bulletins in weeks leading up to his arrest. 

Some of those writings included denunciations of clergy sex abuse, and reflections on living out the celibate life.

Jackson wrote at length in his bulletin about sex abuse scandals perpetrated by “psychosexually dysfunctional” priests, singling out former cardinal Theodore McCarrick as a “creep” who hid a sinful private life with outward good works with the help of corrupt friends in the Catholic hierarchy.

“Any man who tries to live his celibacy without faith, sanctifying grace and a serious life of prayer and dedication to the interior life will eventually (and sometimes this takes only a few years) turn to empty amusements and pleasures in drink, food, fancy vacations at best and pornography and the pursuit of sexual relationships at worst,” he wrote. 

“Without the faith (I mean real belief in God) and the pursuit of the interior life,” he continued, “celibacy just creates a class of professional bachelors who are still saying Mass and doing baptisms, but are overcome with isolation and even depression.”

“They naturally turn to the natural for consolation,” he warned. “And with that turning from God, there is hell to pay.”

When Jackson’s arrest was first announced, many took to social media to voice their opinions on the validity of the charges. Some have vehemently defended Jackson, saying he is innocent, while others say the evidence against him will be difficult to disprove.

Shortly after the charges, supporters of Jackson set up a fundraiser for his legal fees and a private forensic investigation into his case using the crowd funding website GoFundMe.

According to a tweet by Restoring the Faith Media, GoFundMe shortly removed the fundraiser, which had amassed $60,000, stating that it was a violation of their terms of service. 

Restoring the Faith Media shortly found a new platform where they recently announced they had surpassed their goal of $95,000.

“WE ONLY CARE ABOUT THE TRUTH.  EVEN IF THE TRUTH IS DIFFICULT TO PROCESS,” their fundraising web page says. “In an age of political policing, the faithful deserve a 2nd pair of eyes on the evidence.”


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