By Jessica Able and Record Staff Reports
Father Stephen A. Pohl, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville who pleaded guilty to accessing child pornography, was sentenced by Judge David J. Hale in United States District Court on March 29.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, he was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison followed by a lifetime of supervised release for violating federal child exploitation laws. He will be required to register as a sex offender and be supervised by the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services. He was also fined $7,500.
In a statement released after his sentencing, the Archdiocese of Louisville said it “respected Fr. Pohl’s decision to accept responsibility for his actions.”
“We ask for prayers for Fr. Pohl, for his family and for the St. Margaret Mary Parish community,” the statement said.
Father Pohl, formerly pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church, was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 12, when the Archdiocese of Louisville learned he was under investigation by the FBI for possessing inappropriate images of children.
Father Pohl was and remains suspended from ministry. He may not present himself as a priest, wear clerical clothing or serve in ministry.
Now that criminal proceedings are complete, Father Pohl’s case will be referred to the Holy See for a final determination of his status as a priest, according to the archdiocese.
At his sentencing, Father Pohl expressed regret for his actions and apologized to the parishioners and staff of St. Margaret Mary. He also apologized to
“Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, to the clergy and to the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville.”
He apologized to his family and friends, some of whom were in the courtroom, and to “the public at large.”
“I deeply regret the sadness, pain, anger and mistrust I have caused,” he said.
Father Pohl said he prayed that all those hurt by his actions would experience “God’s peace.”
The investigation into Father Pohl began last summer after a child told his parents that the priest took “wierd” photos of him at school, according to court records.
The child’s parents obtained the photos from Father Pohl and shared them with law enforcement, records say.
The priest was arrested on Aug. 21, a day after he resigned as pastor of St. Margaret Mary, where he served for six years.According to court records, Father Pohl accessed pornographic images of children online. He also had more than 150 photos of St. Margaret Mary School children on his computer and other devices, the records say. The children were wearing clothing in these images, but investigators described some of the photos as inappropriate, characterizing them as “child erotica.”
According to the United States Attorney’s Office, the images did not depict “criminal conduct.” That office announced in an advisory March 29 that it is working with the FBI to identify children in photos found in the priest’s possession.
The advisory said letters will be mailed within the next few weeks to parents and guardians of the children. The parents and guardians will have the option to view the photographs. No list of those who were photographed will be distributed or published.
Also on March 29, attorney William McMurry filed suit against the Archdiocese of Louisville on behalf of the parents of a child whom, according to the suit, the priest photographed. The suit claims the archdiocese was negligent in its hiring and supervision of the priest.
Claims in a lawsuit represent only one side of a legal case. The archdiocese declined comment, saying it does not comment on pending litigation.
Father Pohl has served in the following parishes and ministries: pastor of St. Margaret Mary and St. Thomas and St. Monica churches in Bardstown, Ky.; director of the Vocation Office for the Archdiocese of Louisville; associate pastor of St. Athanasius Church, the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown and St. Gabriel Church; chaplain or co-chaplain at Mercy Academy; and deacon at St. Helen, now Mary Queen of Peace Church.
Anyone who has information about sexual abuse or child pornography should contact the police. To report to the civil authorities, call child protection services or the local police in your county. See www.archlou.org/report for a list of these agencies in each county. You also may call the statewide child abuse hotline at 1-877-KYSAFE1 or 1-877-597-2331.
Martine Siegel, victim assistance coordinator for the archdiocese, also is ready to assist those who have concerns. Contact her at 636-1044 or email her at victim