FSSP priest faces new federal child pornography charges

Father James Jackson FSSP Father James Jackson, FSSP, delivers the homily at the funeral Mass for slain Boulder police officer Eric Talley on March 29, 2021, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado | Screenshot of FSSP YouTube video

Federal authorities have filed additional child pornography charges against Father James W. Jackson, who was arrested Oct. 30 after Rhode Island investigators allegedly found hundreds of explicit sexual images on an external hard drive in his rectory office.

Jackson, 66, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), was pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Providence and previously pastored a Traditional Latin Rite parish in Littleton, Colorado. 

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

He was released on an unsecured bond Wednesday with electronic monitoring, and was allowed to return to his home state of Kansas to live with a relative while waiting for the charges to be adjudicated.

It was disclosed in federal court that Jackson has COVID-19 and won't return to Kansas until he recovers, Providence television station WPRI reported. He is scheduled to be arraigned on state child pornography charges Nov. 15.

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.

A forensic analyst with the Rhode Island State Police found “hundreds of image and video files depicting [child sexual abuse material]” during an on-scene forensic preview of a two-terabyte external hard drive located in an office area adjacent to Jackson’s bedroom, according to an affidavit filed in support of the federal charges. 

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

The warrant stemmed from a state task force investigation that identified a computer or other device “sharing files of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) using a peer-to-peer file-sharing network,” the affidavit states. Investigators traced the device to St. Mary’s rectory, according to the affidavit.

Peer-to-peer networks "are designed to facilitate the sharing of electronic files between participating members over the Internet,” the affidavit states.

“To become a member of a peer-to-peer network, a computer user installs file-sharing software on a computer which creates a ‘sharing folder,’ into which may be placed any electronic files available for other members on the network to copy,” the court document states. 

“The user also gains the ability to copy any electronic files into his/her ‘sharing folder’ from other network members,” the affidavit states. “A single peer-to-peer network may consist of thousands of interconnected computers, and the electronic files available on that network are all stored on the individual members’ computers rather than on a central host computer.”

The state task force's investigation 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, according to the affidavit.

Jackson was present at the rectory when investigators arrived to execute the search warrant, the affidavit states. The priest “was given his Miranda rights and asked to speak with an attorney after learning that detectives were there to investigate offenses related to child pornography,” the affidavit states.

Jackson was charged Oct. 30 by state authorities with possession of child pornography, transfer of child pornography, and child erotica prohibited, according to the Rhode Island State Police.

In Rhode Island, the charge of “child erotica prohibited” is defined as the production, possession, display, or distribution of “any visual portrayals of minors who are partially clothed, where the visual portrayals are used for the specific purpose of sexual gratification or sexual arousal from viewing the visual portrayals.”

Jackson has not made any public comment about the charges against him. Once it learned of Jackson's arrest the Diocese of Providence moved quickly to strip him of his position as pastor of St. Mary’s restrict him from public ministry. 

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News of Jackson’s arrest has shaken the relatively close-knit FSSP community. 

Prior to his Aug. 1 arrival in Providence, Jackson spent 15 years at the FSSP apostolate at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado. Jackson is the author of “Nothing Superfluous,” a book about “​​the rich theological meaning behind the art, architecture, words and gestures of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Rite of St. Gregory the Great.”

Dave Counts, a St. Mary’s parishioner, described experiencing a “rollercoaster” of reactions to Jackson's arrest.

Counts told CNA that he has spoken to many people who know Jackson better than he does who insist the popular priest is innocent of the charges. Counts also said that he has a degree in computer science and understands how easily computers can be hacked to plant incriminating evidence against someone.

On the other hand, he added, the information contained in the affidavit is deeply disturbing.

“And either way, as a Catholic I will be praying for our church. I will be praying for Father Jackson, because either way it's horrendous, right?” said Counts, 38.

“If he was framed it’s the most horrendous thing you could do to a priest, really. It’s a complete character assassination to the point where even if his name is [cleared], he probably will never fully recover,” he said. “And if it's true, then it’s one of the most horrendous things he could do.”

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Meanwhile, supporters of Jackson have donated tens of thousands of dollars on his behalf.

The traditionalist Catholic media organization Restoring the Faith Media started an online fundraiser “to help discover what actually happened with Fr. James Jackson, FSSP.” Comments on the fundraiser include testimonies to Jackson’s piety, as well as prayers for Jackson.

“We have known Fr. Jackson for MANY years and he was a spiritual advisor for many of those. A crime of this or any sort is inconceivable for our dear priest and friend,” one comment reads.

“Praying for your proof of innocence, exoneration and restoration of your stellar reputation,” another supporter wrote.

According to Restoring the Faith Media, at least 50% of funds raised will go toward “forensic computing and private investigation,” and the remainder will go to his legal defense. 

The organization’s “TRUTH for Fr. James Jackson, FSSP” fundraiser raised more than $50,000 in the first five hours after its launch. The four largest donations, totaling $16,000, were all from anonymous donors. 

An earlier fundraiser on the GoFundMe platform raised $60,000 before GoFundMe removed it from its website. According to an email from Restoring the Faith Media, GoFundMe did not provide a reason for the campaign’s removal.

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