Fr. James Jackson, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, pleaded guilty on Thursday to a felony count of receiving child pornography.
Jackson, who was set to begin trial June 20, accepted a plea deal in which prosecutors agreed to drop possession of child pornography charges in exchange for his guilty plea to receiving child pornography, according to federal database records and the Providence Journal.
He initially had pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
The 68-year-old priest faces 5-20 years in prison. He will be sentenced in September.
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 thousands of pornographic images, which they say belonged to Jackson.
The priest was charged with possessing and distributing child pornography.
In July 2022, Jackson was arrested in Kansas, where he was living with his sister and her husband, for allegedly violating the terms of his pre-trial release.
As part of the Kansas investigation, police searched the house where Jackson was staying. Searches of several electronic devices belonging to Jackson’s sister and her husband did not find concerning content, according to court documents. However, a laptop and external hard-drive in the bedroom Jackson had allegedly been occupying contained several file names the police associated with child pornography.
Last week, Jackson’s attorney asked a federal court to throw out evidence that the priest had been in possession of child pornography during his pre-trial release.
In a motion filed May 30 in a U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, the attorney invoked federal rules prohibiting evidence from being admitted in a trial “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.”
Jackson’s attorney argued that police could not see the contents of the allegedly pornographic files but were making assumptions based on file names. They also argued that the ownership of the hard drive would be contested during trial.
The attorney argued that the evidence from Kansas should be thrown out because it could lead to “unfair prejudice” against Jackson, due to the child pornography charges he is facing from his arrest in Rhode Island.
Jackson’s attorney also argued that allowing the evidence to be included in his trial could lead to “undue delay and waste of time,” due to the testimony and cross examination that would be required to clarify the circumstances of the police search and the location, contents, and ownership of the seized hard drive.
On June 7, however, the U.S. Attorneys Office opposed Jackson’s motion to suppress the evidence from the Kansas arrest.
“This evidence is specially relevant because it makes it more likely that Defendant himself knowingly and intentionally received and possessed the CSAM [Child Sexual Abuse Material] he is charged with in this case, and that there was no mistake or accident involved in his possession of it,” it said in a court filing.
It argued that while some files had been removed from the hard drive, leaving only records of file names associated with pornography, there were other computer-generated child pornography images were still able to be observed by an analyst through the hard drive’s thumbcache.
Jackson is currently incarcerated in a federal detention center in Rhode Island. His priestly faculties have been suspended.
The priest is a prominent member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a clerical association which offers the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, or Traditional Latin Mass. Jackson was the long-time pastor of a Colorado parish before he was transferred to Rhode Island.
The priest is expected to be laicized and dismissed from his religious institute; possession of child pornography is considered a “grave delict,” or major crime, in the Church’s canon law.
After Jackson pled guilty, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter said in a June 8 statement that:
“The Fraternity of St. Peter pledges to cooperate with civil and ecclesiastical authorities in this case. Fr. Jackson has not had faculties to function publicly as a priest since his arrest in October 2021. Until Fr. Jackson was arrested, the Fraternity of St. Peter was not aware of anything in his words or behavior that could give rise to suspicion concerning such actions. Crimes of this type are execrable, and Catholics should pray for the victims of pornography and work to put an end to its industry.”