Retired St. Louis priest gets prison time for child pornography charges

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A retired Vincentian priest who ministered in St. Louis until 2021 was sentenced this week to five years in prison, after admitting in October to possessing thousands of images containing child pornography.

Father James T. Beighlie, 72, is a priest of the Congregation of the Mission, also called the Vincentians. The order’s U.S. Western Province is based in St. Louis.

According to the Department of Justice, Beighlie pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of child pornography in October 2022. The priest’s attorney had argued for a supervised release, citing health problems, including heart disease and kidney failure.

At the time of his sentencing, Beighlie was residing at the Vianney Renewal Center, a Catholic facility in rural Dittmer, Missouri, near the St. Louis metro area. The center is run by the Servants of the Paraclete, a group that has long operated centers for the treatment of priests and religious with problems of sexual or substance abuse. For a time, the facility in Dittmer housed disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Beighlie’s attorney had asked that the priest be allowed to remain in Dittmer. But Judge Matthew T. Schelp of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, citing the gravity of Beighlie’s crimes, recommended that Beighlie be sent instead to the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, to carry out his sentence, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Ordained in 1979, Beighlie had served as associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in St. Louis for approximately two years until May 2021, provincial spokesman Chris Duggan told CNA.

In his plea agreement, Beighlie admitted that on May 17, 2021, while he was working at the Congregation of the Mission in St. Louis, colleagues found compromising images of him on a church printer, the DOJ reported. As a result, the Congregation of the Mission Western Province opened an internal investigation, during which Beighlie was removed from his position as associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in St. Louis and placed in a monitored environment, the province said.

Based on the results of the internal investigation, the province notified law enforcement. According to the DOJ, about 6,000 images of child sexual abuse material were found on one computer; another computer had 236 images and 40 videos containing child sexual abuse material. Several thousand of the images were contained in two PowerPoint presentations created by Beighlie, the DOJ says.

“While the circumstances surrounding this sentencing are very saddening to us, we respect the judge’s decision and have cooperated with law enforcement throughout the process,” said provincial superior Vincentian Father Patrick McDevitt in a Jan. 11 statement.

“Exploitation of children through pornography is a grave sin and has no place in society.”

Beighlie worked in environments involving children in several capacities in Missouri prior to his suspension in May 2021. Prior to his assignment at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Beighlie served as associate pastor at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in House Springs, Missouri, which has a St. Vincent DePaul Youth Chapter.

Before that assignment, Beighlie was on the faculty at St. Thomas Aquinas/Mercy High School in St. Louis and at Vincent Gray Academy in East St. Louis, Illinois. Prior to that, he served as chaplain at DePaul Hospital in St. Louis, spokesman Duggan told CNA.

There are no other known allegations of sexual abuse of a minor involving Beighlie, Duggan said in October.

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