Former Louisville priest pleads guilty, will become registered sex offender

Former Louisville priest pleads guilty, will become registered sex offender

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Guilty: That's the felony plea that came Monday in Federal Court by a former priest at St. Margaret Mary Parish.

Stephen Pohl, 57, told a judge he accessed child pornography while serving at the church.

Pohl did not show any emotion, he quietly answered the judge's questions in U.S. District Court in Louisville saying he was under the care of a psychologist and he was guilty of accessing child porn. 

During his guilty plea Monday afternoon the former priest was calm and answered all the judge's questions. Pohl was charged in August and arrested in Florida after investigators searched the Saint Margaret Mary parish office and the rectory. Investigators found Pohl had accessed 200 images
of child porn over the internet.

[RELATED: Embattled priest resigns; had 'inappropriate' photos of St. Margaret Mary students]

Authorities acted after a student told his parents that Pohl was taking inappropriate pictures of him in weird poses. Investigators said those photos of children at school were odd, but not child porn. However, once they checked Pohl's computer, investigators did find other images of child pornography - prosecutors reiterated Monday that none of those images were children at the school.

Pohl's attorney Ted Shouse said, "Today Father Pohl took responsibility and pled guilty for his actions on the internet. Under the agreement with the United States the parties agree that a sentence of 33 months under the federal sentencing guidelines is appropriate."

The single charge of accessing child pornography means going to a search engine and looking for child porn sites. Pohl's attorney said he did not download the images.

Pohl resigned as pastor of the parish just days after the Archdiocese of Louisville placed him on leave. He had been released to his mother on a $25,000 bond in September, but after Monday's hearing he went immediately into custody.

By pleading guilty to this felony count he'll eventually be placed on the sex offender registry with lifetime supervision. The Archdiocese of Louisville offered a statement on the plea, it reads in part: "For the sake of St. Margaret Mary Parish and our local Church, we welcome the news that Father Pohl is pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for his actions." 

Pohl will be sentenced on March 29. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also released a statement Monday that read in part:

"We're glad Fr. Stephen Pohl admits his guilt. But we're sad because it's unlikely we'll ever learn which Louisville church staff knew of or suspected and ignored or hid Fr. Pohl's crimes. Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz claims he's 'cooperating' with law enforcement in the child porn case involving Fr. Stephen Pohl. That's not enough. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and his staff must use their vast resources – church websites, parish bulletins and pulpit announcements, across the whole archdiocese - to aggressively seek out victims, witnesses and whistleblowers and actively help police and prosecutors pursue this criminal cleric. In our experience (26 years), we've learned that when a Catholic official claims he's 'cooperating' with secular authorities, that essentially means he's merely responding to – rather than fighting – subpoenas. That's why we urge anyone – Catholic or not – to call law enforcement if they have any information that might help make sure Fr. Pohl is appropriately sentenced. We especially urge church employees to speak up. It may sound trite, but you're either part of the problem or part of the solution. If you know or suspect anything – however old, small or seemingly insignificant it may seem – you have a moral and civic duty to call secular authorities. Finally, our hearts ache for St. Margaret Mary parishioners who must wonder whether their son, daughter, niece, nephew or neighbor's child is one of the kids that Fr. Pohl took 'inappropriate' photos of and may have shared with others. We urge these families to prod their church officials to do more to protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded and expose the truth."

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