Whitfield said that Jackson stopped partying and began excelling academically when he joined the University of Kansas’ Pearson Integrated Humanities Program (IHP), which gained a reputation for producing many Catholic converts and some religious vocations.
Jackson, coming from a Protestant background, converted to Catholicism and then sought out the priesthood, his sister wrote. She described his life as a priest as one of “constant sacrifice and generosity” and thanked the court “in spite of his guilt” for considering “what a good man James Ward Jackson is and has always been.”
Whitfield also revealed that her brother suffered from an acoustic neuroma at some point during his priesthood. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, an acoustic neuroma is a noncancerous tumor that grows slowly on a nerve that leads from the brain to the inner ear. It can be life-threatening if untreated.
Words of support for Jackson
Whitfield and several other supporters — among them priests, religious, friends, and former parishioners — wrote letters to the court attesting to Jackson’s character, some asking for a leniency in sentencing, with others denying his guilt.
“He always impressed me as a man, not only of integrity but of exceptional virtue and talent,” Abbot Philip Anderson of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert, Oklahoma, wrote to the court in a three-page statement describing their almost 50-year friendship.
“I believe that James can still be of great help to society and that the court would be doing a truly good deed in favor of the common good to use leniency in sentencing him,” he wrote.
Another of Jackson’s friends, a fraternity priest, Father Justin Nolan, wrote: “It is incomprehensible to me that Father Jackson could be guilty of the crimes he has pled guilty to and I can only believe that it was in the face of possible life imprisonment that compelled him to do so.”
Included in court documents is Jackson’s Aug. 6 written apology to his community, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
“The vile sin into which I fell, and for which I am guilty, has caused immeasurable harm,” Jackson, the former pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Providence, Rhode Island, wrote.
“I have sinned against God, children, you, friends, and family, former students and former parishioners and many others besides,” he wrote.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
“I cannot repair this damage, but I must try,” he wrote. “I hope you will accept this apology. I’m sorry at a level I’ve never experienced before. I’m ashamed beyond any shame I’ve known.”
“I will be offering reparations, penances, and what good works I can for you, long after I am dismissed from the fraternity, and praying for you, in a reformed life, until my dying day,” he wrote.
After the federal charges in Rhode Island are adjudicated, Jackson is expected to face state charges in Kansas related to an additional child pornography investigation. That investigation was conducted when Jackson was living on bond in Kansas with his sister.
After the local investigation was communicated to federal authorities, Jackson was subsequently arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service and has been in custody at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island.