This report was updated subsequent to publication.
In a plea for a sentence of five years on child pornography charges, Fr. James Jackson told a federal judge that he accepted responsibility for his crimes and was sorry, and that he had been sexually abused himself as a minor.
The priest also sent to the court an August letter to members of his religious community, in which he apologized for his “vile sin.”
“The vile sin into which I fell, and for which I am guilty, has caused immeasurable harm,” Jackson explained in a handwritten letter dated Aug. 6, and reportedly sent to his religious provincial superior and other members of his religious community.
“I have sinned against God, children, you, friends and family, former students and former parishioners and many others besides,” the priest wrote. “I cannot repair this damage, but I must try. I hope you will accept this apology.”
“I’m sorry at a level I’ve never experienced before. I’m ashamed beyond any shame I’ve known,” the priest wrote.
“I will be offering reparations, penances, and what good works I can for you, long after I am dismissed from the Fraternity, and praying for you, in a reformed life, until my dying day.”
Jackson’s apology came attached to a sentencing memorandum filed in federal court Dec. 11, six months after he pled guilty to a felony count of receiving child sex abuse material.
In the memorandum, the priest asked that he be sentenced to five years incarceration, followed by supervised release.
Due to be sentenced Dec. 13, Jackson, 68, could receive the maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, but is likely to be sentenced to five years, in light of a concurring recommendation from federal prosecutors.
The priest told the court that he has been “involuntarily removed from the priesthood but has not abandoned his faith.”
“He rightfully confessed his sins associated with the crimes in this case, just as he pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility before this Court,” his sentencing memo read.
Jackson told the judge that his conduct was “hypocritical” and “completely unbecoming of a devout Catholic and more so, a clergyman.”
The sentencing memo also said that Jackson had been himself sexually abused, and subsequently developed an “addiction” to child sex abuse material.
“While there is no excuse or justification for Mr. Jackson’s admitted misconduct, such is not without explanation. As a young boy, while participating in Boy Scouts, Mr. Jackson was molested,” the memo said.
“These events were not timely reported or disclosed to anyone, foreclosing the possibility of young James receiving proper care or treatment for his trauma. In any event, these experiences shaped and socialized him, at least partially, into the man he is today.”
“Mr. Jackson channeled that trauma and addressed it by pursuing and viewing child pornography. His doing so resulted in the development of an addiction to these obscene visual depictions, which explains how and why he comes before this Court.”
According to other court documents, Jackson told law enforcement that he was abused when he was 10 years old, and was allegedly perpetrated by the mother of a fellow child in his Boy Scout troop.
For their part, federal prosecutors wrote in a Dec. 11 memo that Jackson should receive five years incarceration, along with 10 years of supervised release, and be ordered to pay restitution to victims of child pornography.
“The victims in this case are real children who were raped and molested in order to provide sexual gratification for the defendant. By repeatedly downloading and viewing child sexual abuse material for his own gratification, this defendant engaged in repeated acts of dehumanization which re-victimized the children,” prosecutors wrote.
“More than 12,000 images and videos depicting child sexual abuse were located on the defendant’s computers. These materials included pre-pubescent minors, sadistic and masochistic conduct, and bestiality. Through his reprehensible conduct, the defendant fueled the market for child sexual abuse material and further harmed the victims.”
According to federal prosecutors, 190 victims of child abuse sex could be identified in the cache of images and videos in Jackson’s possession.
In response to her abuse, one victim stated that: “I live everyday with the horrible knowledge that many people somewhere are watching the most terrifying moments of my life and taking grotesque pleasure in them. I am a victim of the worst kind of exploitation: child porn. Unlike other forms of exploitation, this one is never ending. Everyday, people are trading and sharing videos of me as a little girl being raped in the most sadistic ways. They don’t know me, but they have seen every part of me. They are being entertained by my pain and shame.”
Prosecutors noted that a “particularly disturbing fact in this case is the defendant’s position of authority as a Catholic priest and pastor. As such, the defendant was looked up to by many as paragon of moral authority.”
The sentencing memo argued that Jackson is likely to commit crimes in the future, given that he downloaded child sex abuse material even after he was arrested.
“This defendant clearly has some form of addictive personality. To engage in downloading child sexual abuse material while under the supervision of a federal court, shortly after being arrested for the same conduct, demonstrates either a flagrant disregard for the Court’s authority or an inability to control one’s own behavior. Either explanation creates a high risk of recidivism.”
Fr. Jackson was initially investigated and arrested on charges of possession and distribution of child pornography charges in 2021 in Rhode Island.
Jackson was arrested Oct. 30, 2021, after state police identified a device sharing child pornography with an IP address assigned to St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Providence, RI, where Jackson served.
Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant and found an external hard drive containing child pornography, which they say belonged to Jackson, who initially pled not guilty to the federal charges.
While on conditional release in that case in July 2022, he was investigated on additional child pornography possession allegations.
Jackson was at that time living in Kansas with relatives, under supervised release.
According to a federal memo filed in court last year, law enforcement officers identified internet activity in Kansas which indicated that between May and June 2022, the priest accessed additional child sex abuse material.
The federal memo added that “Jackson appeared to have tried to [have] concealed/hidden the devices at the time of the search,” adding that the priest “was not cooperative with officers throughout the search process.”
The priest was taken into federal custody after probation officials were notified of the Kansas investigation, because he had unauthorized devices connected to the internet. He has been held in a Rhode Island federal detention facility since then, and will face Kansas state charges after he is sentenced in federal court.
The priest charged in court last year that the October 2021 search leading to his initial arrest was unconstitutional. He changed his pleading in June.
Jackson is a prominent member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a clerical association which offers the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, also called the Traditional Latin Mass.
The priest's initial arrest divided some traditionalist Catholics, with some claiming that Jackson was not computer savvy enough to have committed child porn crimes, and some suggesting the priest had been framed, or that child porn seized at his rectory belonged to someone else.
In addition to Jackson’s plea for the minimum sentence, the priest included in his sentencing memo statements of support from numerous former parishioners, and from several priests.
Despite his guilty plea, Jackson included several letters whose texts included claims that the priest might be innocent — at least one of which was written after his guilty plea, but before the priest apologized to fellow priests for his guilt, in his August note to his religious community.
One priest, Fr. Justin Nolan, FSSP, wrote in an undated letter filed with the court Dec. 11 that in parish ministry, Jackson had been “the consummate gentleman in all his dealings with parishioners, seminarians, priests, and people.”
“I would be hard pressed to identify any faults in his character or behavior. He had no discernible vices,” Nolan added.
“It is incomprehensible to me that Fr. Jackson could be guilty of the crimes he has pled guilty to, and I can only believe that it was in the face of possible life imprisonment that compelled him to do so.”
Subsequent to the initial publication of this report, Nolan contacted The Pillar to say that while it had been filed with the court Dec. 11, he had actually written his letter in June.
“My letter was written on June 15, a few days after [Jackson’s] ‘guilty’ plea,” Nolan wrote by email.
“The letters were asked for by his attorney and written for the purposes of giving a character testimonial to be entered before his sentencing so as to give the judge a better idea of his character and conduct as people had known him,” the priest added.
While Nolan’s letter included his incredulity at Jackson’s guilty plea, it was “not written in defense of his innocence,” the priest told The Pillar.
He added that, “Fr. Jackson’s most recent statements of guilt, in particular his letter of apology to the priests in August, make it quite clear that he is guilty of crimes of which he has pled to,” Nolan added.
“I know of no one who continues to maintain his innocence.”
Jackson filed another undated letter with the court on Dec. 11, which argued that the priest could not be guilty.
The undated letter came from the priest’s former secretary.
“I have never believed for a minute that Fr. Jackson is guilty of the accusations at hand,” wrote Adrienne Coleman, who was Jackson’s secretary at a Colorado parish for 10 years.
Coleman told the court that she has spent 18 years as an officer in the federal Secret Service Uniformed Division.
“In my opinion, Father is on the front lines of the spiritual battle which is in full swing in our culture and society today. Father is a big target because of the books he has written, the movie ‘Mass of the Ages’ that he was in, and he had just been selected as one of the 5 priests to head the new Provincial Council for the North American Province for the Fraternity of St. Peter,” she wrote.
Arguing for Jackson’s innocence, Coleman asked rhetorically, “Why would a man guilty of the charges he is accused of hire a cop for a secretary?”
But while Jackson filed that letter with the court this week, Coleman told The Pillar that she had written it before Jackson pleaded guilty in June.
She said she has since changed her mind about the priest.
“Even after he pled guilty, for a little while we in the parish all thought it was a plea deal kind of thing. We were all seeing it through the lenses of our experience with him. We didn’t know the evidence then.”
In fact, she said, “until shortly after his guilty plea, many of us were thinking someone was uploading stuff on stuff onto his computer — but our pastor made sure that we knew the facts, and then we had to know the truth, so that our parish wouldn't be divided.”
She told The Pillar that she had actually composed a second letter, which acknowledged Jackson’s guilt, in early December. That letter was not included in Jackson’s sentencing memorandum.
Coleman said her second letter said that she believed the priest could be rehabilitated.
“I said of course he should never be put in a position of authority again, but that maybe he could be rehabilitated. Maybe he could go to a monastery that didn’t have technology of any kind — then he could avail himself of regular confession and Mass everyday.”
“But you know, in our parish, we had to look at this and all the evidence, because, you know, the truth will set you free.”
In another letter filed Dec. 11, Abbot Philip Anderson of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma wrote July 31 that he had known Jackson since 1979.
“He always impressed me as a man, not only of integrity, but of exceptional virtue and talent, Anderson wrote.
“Never did I see even the slightest hint that he would be delving into the dark world of porn,” the abbot added.
“James has shown a great willingness to help others in any situation. I am told he is well-respected by most of the prisoners around him in his current place of incarceration. He was written to me in a letter that he started a campaign to get his fellow prisoners to stop blaspheming,” the priest wrote.
“I believe that James can still be of great help to society,” he added.
Jackson is due to be sentenced Dec. 13. The priest has not yet been formally laicized, though his laicization is likely to come subsequent to his sentencing.
Editor’s note: Subsequent to publication of this report, Fr. Justin Nolan told The Pillar that while his letter regarding Jackson was filed with a federal judge Dec. 11 and had not been dated, he had actually written the letter June 15, before Jackson had issued a letter of apology to priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
Additionally, Adrienne Coleman told The Pillar that while her letter had been filed with a federal judge Dec. 11 and had not been dated, she had actually written it before Jackson pleaded guilty. She told The Pillar she had written a subsequent letter in early December, which acknowledged the priest’s guilt. That letter was not included in Jackson’s sentencing memo.
This report has been updated accordingly.