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UPDATE, 6/16/2023: After intense backlash, Mass of the Ages is reversing course and has decided to remove Fr. Jackson from episode one.
"After prayer and discernment, I realized I acted imprudently," said producer Cameron O'Hearn in a YouTube video released Friday. "[W]e've decided to remove episode 1 from YouTube and to remake it."
"I take full responsibility for my team acting rashly," he added.
Alluding to criticisms that his initial statement glossed over the evil of child pornography, O'Hearn ended his video with a plea: "Please pray for the victims of child pornography and abuse."
A documentary lauded for highlighting the beauties of the Traditional Latin Mass is choosing to feature a convicted pedophile caught with thousands of files of sadistic child pornography.
On June 8, nearly two years after his initial arrest for child porn in Rhode Island, Fr. James Jackson, a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), pled guilty to receipt of child porn.
The Mass of the Ages Society published a statement Tuesday claiming to be "disturbed by the heinous crimes to which Fr. James Jackson pleaded guilty," adding that "[o]ur hearts cry out for the victims of pornography." It then goes on to note:
However, we will not be editing Episode I, which was released before the charges came to light. While we know the association with him will bring negative attention, we will not reconstruct entire documentary films that are already released.
Jackson appears in two brief segments in episode 1 (18:34 and 22:50). His total on-air time is approximately 2 minutes and 10 seconds — contradicting the claim that cutting him out would result in reconstructing "entire documentary films."
Church Militant contacted spokesman Jake Tate for comment, who responded by linking to the public statement.
An affidavit (caution: graphic) details the nature of the footage found on Jackson's laptop and hard drive in November 2021, which involved 12,000 images and 1,300 video files of child pornography featuring rape and torture of children, including toddlers and infants forced to have sex with adults, animals or objects.
His arrest shocked and divided the Catholic traditionalist world, with many convinced he was innocent and being targeted by federal agents, who "hacked" his laptop and "planted" the external hard drive.
Cameron O'Hearn, director of Mass of the Ages, was among those who believed Jackson was falsely accused, publishing a YouTube video saying, "I think he's innocent."
How do the other speakers in this documentary feel about being featured alongside a sadistic pedophile?— Audrey (@etheldredamg) June 13, 2023
"I'm willing to go out on a limb, even if it means six months to a year from now I look very naive," O'Hearn said. "For any who've met Fr. James Jackson, man, he just gives off this peace when he talks ... he's wise, he has the wisdom of God, he's not flashy, he's not even, he doesn't have these odd foibles you would expect with a priest like that."
"At the risk of sounding very naive, he is one of those very few that I could trust, so if he is guilty, it's going to be — I don't know how to sort that through internally," he continued. "Who can I trust, if not someone like Fr. James Jackson?"
In 2021, Catholics convinced Jackson was innocent raised $142,000 for him in a week, giving to a fundraiser run by Mike Parrott of Restoring the Faith media, who gave 60% of the donations to Jackson's attorney and the rest devoted to an investigation that falsely promised to conduct "forensic computing" of "relevant physical devices" to "get to the truth."
An independent forensic examination requested by his attorney, however, revealed no evidence of hacking or tampering. Jackson's own attorney never argued in court that his client was "framed" or that the material seized was inauthentic or planted. Jackson himself has never issued a statement proclaiming his innocence.
Many of his supporters erroneously claimed his 'not guilty' plea entered on Dec. 21, 2021 was his statement of personal innocence, but this reporter noted at the time that it is typical for criminal defense attorneys to advise clients at that phase to enter a not guilty plea as a tactical maneuver. The vast majority of not guilty pleas are eventually changed to guilty later on — as occurred in Jackson's case.
It is par for the course to enter a "not guilty" plea at this stage. It's not a real indication of anything. Every criminal defense attorney counsels it.— Christine Niles (@ChristineNiles1) December 22, 2021
McCarrick entered a plea of not guilty. OJ Simpson did. And Josh Duggar, and countless others. In my eyes, it's just protocol
While out on bond in Kansas, Jackson was arrested nine months later in July 2022, after trying to access child porn again.
A search of his laptop and hard drive there revealed "adult pornography, child pornography and computer-generated child pornography images," along with search terms like "innocent virgin," "little sister" and "Lolita."
After Jackson was transferred back to jail in Rhode Island, he admitted in court that the government had probable cause to prove he possessed child porn in Kansas.
After several failed motions to exclude the evidence, Fr. Jackson changed his not guilty plea to guilty on June 8. He is facing up to 20 years in prison.
Some Catholics are expressing dismay at Mass of the Ages' decision.
Dr. Jules Gomes, an investigative journalist at Church Militant, responded in shock: "Any secular publisher, in fact every single secular publisher, would pull the image of such a vile monster from a video intended to promote what trads claim to be is the most sacred and exalted form of the Holy Mass."
Gomes has reported extensively and favorably on the Traditional Latin Mass, with numerous reports critical of Pope Francis' decree Traditionis Custodes restricting traditional liturgy.
He characterized the decision to leave Jackson in the series "spitting in the face of the victims."
"Also, notice they sweep his crimes under the generic rubric of 'pornography,' as if he was browsing through a copy of Playboy," he noted. "No, this is child pornography — and unacceptable in any society. I feel physically sick reading this response."
Jessica Chacon, who was raised in the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), commented, "Funny how secular people can boycott Target and Bud Light, but trad Catholics become flaccid and flop over when it comes to predator priests."
"Also that sends a message to everyone that predators can have a voice," she added.
"Why would they commit trad suicide?" asked Anastasia Heidt, a Catholic in Montana who was raised in a traditionalist family. "It makes all the work they put into their project pointless and stupid."
Because of abuse Chacon and Heidt either experienced or witnessed in the SSPX, neither continue to frequent SSPX chapels.
"No amount of factual evidence will ever convince some of his followers that he's not only guilty, he's evil," said J. Basil Dannebohm, a former SSPX donor and friend of Superior General Bp. Bernard Fellay.
"I've seen so many posts from that camp on social media urging the faithful to pray for Fr. Jackson," he noted. "None mention praying for the victims. And there are victims. While he did not sexually assault anybody, he committed numerous other lustful, heinously perverse, and deceptive crimes against God's people."
"I'm inclined to wonder if the production team of Mass of the Ages has actually read the charges in detail — word for word and page for page," he said. "Because had they read the charges, there is no conceivable way they could say on one hand that they feel terrible for the victims and on the other hand remain convicted to keep him in a film."
The situation that has unfolded with Father Jackson and others should have been an opportunity to pause, pray, and ponder. It was an opportunity missed. Once again the victims are given lip service. The least among these are kicked and spat upon. It's a shameful situation and the team at Mass of the Ages and every other media organization that hasn't outright condemned what has transpired should be hanging their heads in shame.
Not every Catholic thinks Mass of the Ages made the wrong decision. Timothy Gordon, a traditionalist Catholic who hosts Rules for Retrogrades, who never went along with claims that Jackson had been "framed" by federal agents, characterized the desire to excise him from the documentary as "cancel culture" — not of Fr. Jackson, but of Mass of the Ages.
"It is perfectly just for CM and others who were on the right side of the Jackson issue all along to seek a bit of vindication, especially after others came after them vigorously for a commonsense approach to public trials watching," said Gordon. But as to MOTA1 [Mass of the Ages ep. 1] retroactivity issue, it's another matter altogether: It's not common practice to cut actor/speaker parts out of film subsequent to arrests of actors/speakers — a proposition which puts undue burden on filmmakers.
"None of my ten favorite films would stand if all the actors who were bad guys were subsequently expunged," he explained. "It's one thing to propose otherwise, but quite another thing to treat the ever-sensible MOTA guys as if they were on Team Jackson simply because as filmmakers they want their perfected, completed project to stand."
One might make the distinction, however, between actors playing fictional roles in films as opposed to priest-experts consulted for both their knowledge of the sacred liturgy as well as their personal holiness — as was the case with Fr. Jackson in Mass of the Ages.
Others believe the decision to keep clips of a convicted pedophile because he offered the Traditional Latin Mass is yet further evidence of tribalism.
"I once worked with Prof. Kenneth Newport, one of the world's foremost experts on the Waco Branch Davidians," said Dr. Gomes. "I learned a lot about cognitive dissonance and cult behavior."
"Mr. Tate's response and the reactions of several prominent traditionalists on social media leave me with no other alternative than to diagnose such behavior as decidedly cultic," he said. "Pope Francis was right. This is clericalism in excelsis."
Jackson's guilty plea comes only one week after another traditionalist priest, Fr. Pierre de Maillard, SSPX, was found guilty of molesting 27 children in France over the course of 25 years. It comes four months after another SSPX priest, Fr. Matthew Stafki, pled guilty to sexually abusing his 9-year-old niece over the course of three years.
Mass of the Ages continues to raise money. As fundraising goals, it is hoping to raise $150,000 to bring episode 3 to 3 million people; $175,200 to "equip and train 100 priests"; and $385,000 to produce the Latin Mass Explained series.
Catholics may contact Mass of the Ages at Jake@latinmass.com.