A retired priest has been sentenced to five years in prison after it was discovered he had made slideshow presentations containing thousands of images of child pornography. The 72-year-old's arsenal of abusive material was discovered after he left nude images of himself on a church printer, officials said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of Missouri said on Tuesday that Vincentian priest James T. Beighlie of St. Louis, Missouri, had 6,000 pictures containing child sexual abuse material on a computer, including child pornography and images of child erotica.
"Beighlie created two PowerPoint presentations with graphic titles that linked to thousands of the images, and often visited and edited the presentations over a period of years," the office said, adding that he had a second computer with an additional 236 images and 40 videos of similar content.
Court documents say that some of the children in the slideshows appeared to be under the age of 12 and that some of the content "portrayed sadistic or masochistic conduct."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Lang said during court that the now-retired priest revised his slideshow presentations more than 200 times.
"This criminal conduct was part of his daily life," Lang said.
Beighlie had been looking atmaterial since at least 2008, Lang said, but it wasn't until 2021 that it was found out. In May of that year when he was working as an associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in St. Louis as part of the Congregation of the Mission, some of his colleagues found "compromising images" of him on a church printer.
According to the facts stated in Beighlie's guilty plea agreement, the images were that of a "nude man" and were found to have been created by Beighlie.
That finding launched an investigation within the church, which according to court documents then asked Beighlie to turn over his electronic devices that were believed to have been paid for by the congregation. Court documents say he handed over four desktop computer towers, a laptop, four external hard dives and a smartphone.
A private IT support company soon found videos of what appeared to be "minors engaging in sex acts," the attorney's office said, and court documents say that there is "no indication" anyone else had access to the devices. During that time, he was removed from his position, according to the Congregation of the Western Province and "placed in a monitored environment." Court documents show that he was initially sent to a different facility known as Saint Mary of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri.
The church's attorney contacted the FBI, which then began its own investigation.
The priest pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of child pornography in October. And after it was realized there was a childcare center near Saint Mary's, the Congregation relocated the priest to Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Missouri, on Jan. 2 this year.
On Tuesday, he was sentenced to five years and ordered to pay nearly $25,000. A portion of that money, $4,750, will go to one of the victims who was portrayed in the child pornography, the office said, while the remaining $22,000 will go toward otherinvolving children.
In a letter to the presiding judge, one of the victims seen in the child pornography spoke out about the abuse.
"It's depressing and sickening to know that people were looking at images and videos of my online sexual abuse when I was a little girl and that they were getting pleasure from it – my abuse," they said.
Prior to serving at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Beighlie was on the faculty at St. Thomas Aquinas/Mercy High School and Vincent Gray Academy, both in St. Louis, and had also spent time as an associate pastor at Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in House Springs, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Rev. Patrick McDevitt, provincial superior for the Congregation of the Western Province, said in a statement on Tuesday that the circumstances are "very saddening," but that "we respect the judge's decision and have cooperated with law enforcement throughout the process."
"Exploitation of children through pornography is a grave sin and has no place in society," he said. The Congregation added in the statement that it is "committed to a safe environment and maintains on-going accreditation from Praesidium," an organization that has created protocols in an attempt to prevent child abuse.
Prior to this week's sentencing, McDevitt asked the presiding judge for "mercy for Jim," and even offered for the congregation to pay to house him in lieu of imprisonment.
"I am asking that you spare him incarceration and, instead, allow him to reside at [Vianney Renewal Center]," he wrote in a letter to the judge dated Dec. 21. "If he is allowed to remain at VRC, I will see to it that he is never transferred from the facility, unless his health deteriorates and hospitalization is needed. His care/residency will be paid for by my congregation."
McDevitt noted that the priest wouldn't be allowed to access the internet or to interact with minors.
"What Jim has done is wrong and criminal," he said. "After Jim was moved to Perryville, he started engaging in prayer, he eats meals with his confreres, and he is an active participant in community life. If only he had been involved like this years before, I truly believe he would not be in the situation that he is in."
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