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RI Crime

Providence priest arrested on child porn, erotica charges

Father James Jackson, 66, of St. Mary’s Church, was taken into custody after state police found that child pornography was being shared online from an internet connection at the church

PROVIDENCE — A Catholic priest in Providence was arrested and charged with possessing child pornography and erotica at the church where he lives and serves as pastor, the state police said Sunday.

Father James Jackson, 66, of St. Mary’s Church at 538 Broadway in Providence, was unable to post the $5,000 surety bail on the charges and was taken to the Adult Correctional Institutions intake facility, state police said. The charges include possession and transfer of child pornography and child erotica prohibited.

Father James Jackson, 66, of St. Mary’s Church, 538 Broadway, Providence.Rhode Island State Police

The Rhode Island State Police said its Internet Crimes Against Children task force recently started an investigation into someone sharing child pornography over the internet. The state police alleged that the internet connection at the church itself was connected to the sharing of the child pornography and erotica. The church is adjacent to two middle schools and an elementary school.

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The task force searched the church and the rectory on Saturday, the state police said, and identified Jackson as the owner of digital media allegedly involved in the child pornography and erotica.

Possession of child erotica is a relatively new criminal charge in Rhode Island. Members of the Internet Crimes Against Children task force — made up of state, local and federal agencies but run by the state police — had long pressed for the criminal prohibition on possession of images of partially clothed children in cases where they’re used for sexual gratification or arousal. State police officials had considered child erotica a loophole where young children were being exploited through blatantly sexualized imagery, but adults who possessed the images could not be charged.

Governor Dan McKee signed the bill into law in July, over the objection of groups like the state American Civil Liberties Union, who argued that the bill was “extraordinarily vague.”

Since 2018, St. Mary’s Church, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, has been entrusted to the care of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a clerical society of which Jackson is a member. Jackson was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s at the beginning of August this year, and before that was assigned by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter outside of Rhode Island.

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“We are praying for all involved,” the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter said in a written statement, which also said Jackson underwent a criminal background check and previously had a “sterling” record. “Our hearts go out to all those who have been hurt by sexual misconduct of any kind.”

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is considered a traditionalist society; St. Mary’s is now a traditional Latin Mass parish at a time of controversy in church over the use of Latin, which predates changes in the 1960s brought by Vatican II, during services.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence called child pornography “a serious crime and a grave sin.” Tobin has now prohibited Jackson from the sacred ministry and from serving as a pastor.

“The charges against Father Jackson are very disturbing to all and must be taken very seriously,” Tobin said. “At the same time, I renew my pastoral concern and offer my fervent prayers for the good people of St. Mary Parish during this difficult time.”


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.