PROVIDENCE (ChurchMilitant.com) - (caution: graphic content) A traditionalist priest was arrested a second time on charges related to possession and distribution of child porn.
Father James Jackson, longtime member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), was first arrested Saturday at St. Mary's Church in Providence, Rhode Island, after a two-month investigation traced pornographic materials back to his computer, located just outside his rectory bedroom.
He posted bail on Sunday. On Tuesday in Cranston, he was arrested again, this time by federal agents.
Both state and federal charges have been filed against Jackson, including possession of child porn and distribution of child porn.
Jackson made an initial appearance in federal court Wednesday before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Patricia A. Sullivan. He was released on bond with electronic monitoring, and permitted to travel to Kansas to stay with family. There is no description of whether he spoke in court. His arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 15, where he will formally enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
At the hearing, Jackson waived his right to a preliminary hearing. According to criminal defense attorneys, there are strategic reasons to do this:
No defendant can be forced to stand trial unless the prosecution can present sufficient evidence of the charge. A preliminary hearing is where this evidence is presented, and is sometimes called the "trial" before the trial — although there is no jury and the judge merely needs to determine whether there is probable cause to move forward with a trial.
The preliminary hearing allows the accused to present counterarguments and exculpatory evidence on his behalf. Father Jackson waived his right to this.
An affidavit signed Nov. 1 by Homeland Security Special Agent James Richardson details the nature of the investigation and the footage found on Jackson's computer:
On September 4, 2021, East Providence Police Department (EPPD) and Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force member Detective Corporal Stephen Evans identified a computer or other device utilizing Internet Protocol (IP) address 188.8.131.52 sharing files of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) using a peer-to-peer file-sharing network.
Detective Corporal Evans viewed a portion of the aforementioned files and confirmed several of the video files content to be CSAM. One of the files is described below:
File Name: Wanted Dad And Daughter-1
Description: This video is two minutes, and 32 seconds of a nude prepubescent female performing oral sex on an adult male.
After discovering that child porn had been downloaded on or uploaded and sent from Jackson's computer Sunday, Sept. 26; Friday, Oct. 15; and Sunday, Oct. 17; Detective Evans and other members of the ICAC Task Force raided St. Mary's rectory on Oct. 30.
The task force found the priest outside his rectory and conducted a search of two rooms inside the building. Officers read him his Miranda rights, and the priest asked to speak with his attorney "after learning that detectives were there to investigate offenses related to child pornography."
The affidavit details other disturbing footage found on the priest's hard drive.
RISP Forensic Analyst (FA) Gerald Gent conducted an on-scene forensic preview of Jackson's 2 terabyte Western Digital easystore external hard drive located in Jackson's office area of the rectory which adjoined Jackson's bedroom. As a result of the preview, FA Gent observed hundreds of image and video files depicting [child sexual abuse material]. These image and video files depicted prepubescent females, including infants and toddlers, engaged in sexual acts, to include bondage and bestiality, and/or the graphic and lascivious exhibition of their genitals. One particular video file, Jenny Suck Dog Cock And Loving It.avi ... depicts a nude prepubescent female repeatedly inserting a dog's penis into her mouth.
While various online commentators have offered the possibility that Jackson was "set up" by a hacker who remotely uploaded pornographic material onto his computer, that theory becomes less likely in light of the fact that the content was found on an external hard drive. It also becomes more remote in light of the fact the porn was not simply downloaded but also sent from his computer.
An external hard drive is a storage device separate from the computer that stores data. The material would normally be downloaded from the internet onto the computer first, and then transferred to the external hard drive, although downloading directly to the external hard drive is possible.
Additionally, external hard drives disconnected from the computer cannot be hacked.
Some have even claimed the incident is payback from local satanists, after Jackson held a protest of a black mass. That argument is weakened in light of the fact that the porn downloads took place multiple times in the weeks before the protest took place.
In response to Church Militant's media queries asking whether Jackson has denied any of the charges, FSSP attorney Joseph Gaughan responded Monday and again on Thursday without answering the specific question, instead directing this apostolate to read the FSSP's original statement.
Jackson is being represented by Attorney John L. Calcagni, a former federal prosecutor who is now a criminal defense lawyer based in Providence. Church Militant also asked him whether the priest had denied any of the charges.
We noted in our query that a GoFundMe page had been set up by lay group Restoring the Faith Media to raise money for Jackson's legal defense.
"Most of the Catholics donating are convinced of Fr. Jackson's innocence," Church Militant asked. "Is it not incumbent upon Fr. Jackson to say something one way or another, especially to these Catholics?"
The query continued:
If Fr. Jackson is indeed guilty and that is proven down the road, his refusal to clarify matters now while accepting thousands of dollars in donations from Catholics convinced of his innocence could very likely be seen as taking advantage of their naïveté and goodwill for monetary gain.
As of Wednesday night, the page had raised approximately $50,000 — before it was taken down by GoFundMe for a violation of their terms of service.
Calcagni did not return Church Militant's requests for comment.
Social media has been sharply divided over Jackson's innocence or guilt, with commenters who personally know the priest insisting on his innocence, while others are taking a more measured approach.
This is irresponsible. We should not be committing funds to his defense before we even know which way he will plea and before there is a shred of evidence that this was a nefarious set up— Audrey Cole (@AudreyC63204826) November 4, 2021
As someone who has spent time with Fr Jackson, I would trust him with my own children. He did not do this. And for someone who claims to be "Catholic"…. How dare you and everyone going against him ruin his name.— Amanda Hull (@NinaHullXV) November 4, 2021
NO!!!— Joe (@Joekart) November 3, 2021
He'll have his day in court, but quite frankly they already have the evidence they need.
This attitude ("Not my priest!" "They're out to get us!") devastated the Novus Ordo church 30 years ago. It will destroy the trad movement.
He's not "one of us". He’s a pedophile.
I'm for loyalty & truth. If one is guilty then that is truth but this is nuts. We got a solid priest who barely knows how to operate a cell phone who is being accused of basically using the dark web, downloading multiple terabytes of data on multiple hard drives. Not buying it— Sensus Fidelium (@Sensus_Fidelium) November 3, 2021
People react to accusations against priests they believe holy as desecrations. They are blaming the messenger.— Janet E. Smith (@avidkayaker50) November 2, 2021
It was a set up. He’s innocent.— Mamie Young (@MamieYo18907372) November 4, 2021
The idea of "being framed" or "a virus" according to my source is absolutely out the window, based on what police relayed. But you never know. At the moment it's an open and shut, red-handed affair. Pray for the children, the parish, and Fr. Jackson. Lord have mercy on sinners.— imagineinfaith (@imagineinfaith) November 2, 2021
I have known the man for many years. This is a setup. He was barley able to operate a cell phone. This man is very intelligent. They walk in on time with his schedule. Drug plants work the same way. Who else had access?— Pythais T Barnes (@PythaisB) November 3, 2021
It seems that way. I am a parent parishioner at St. Mary’s and I follow the facts and when it comes to this type of crime, we have no loyalties to any group that surpasses the protection of children and more importantly, souls.— Joanna (@jlewishayden) November 3, 2021
The FSSP, which offers the traditional liturgy, was canonically erected in 1988 under Pope St. John Paul II, after a number of priests left the Society of St. Pius X following Abp. Marcel Lefebvre's consecration of four bishops, in defiance of the pope.
Father Jackson served as rector of the FSSP's seminary in Denton, Nebraska from 2000–2007. Before coming to Rhode Island in August, he served as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Littleton, Colorado.
He was featured in Episode 1 of the trilogy Mass of the Ages, highlighting the beauties of the Traditional Latin Mass.
The diocese of Providence, under Bp. Thomas Tobin, has prohibited Jackson "from the sacred ministry and the exercise of the office of pastor" following news of his arrest.
The Department of Homeland Security is asking any tips related to this investigation to be made to (401) 734-8114.
The affidavit is set forth in full below.
11/6/2021: This article was updated with new information from Fr. Jackson's Nov. 3 court hearing.