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Our Pastor Looked at Child Pornography and Took Inappropriate Pictures, but He’s a Really Nice Guy

father stephen pohl

I have known Stephen Pohl since the day he was born. I seriously doubt that these allegations will be proven. He said mass at my mothers [sic] passing and has been a friend to my family for over 50 years. It is painful because we are again seeing the pillory [sic] of another priest. Father Joe Hemmerly has been dogged by allegations all stemming from putting Lotion on the Sun Burn of a camper at the summer camp he ran. Many priests are unfairly targeted and I will be seriously surprised if these allegations pan out.

Father Stephen Pohl Supporter

Another day, another Catholic priest is arrested/charged/convicted of sexually molesting children. In August 2015, Stephen Pohl, 57, a pastor at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Louisville, Kentucky was arrested and charged with the possession of child pornography. According to the Courier Journal, Pohl “admitted to accessing the pornographic images of nude underage boys on computers at the church rectory and office between January and August 2015.” In January, Pohl admitted his guilt and signed a plea agreement that could result in him spending 33 months in a federal penitentiary. Pohl would also be required to register as a sex offender and face a “lifetime of supervision by the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services.”

According to Courier-Journal report:

The federal case began after a 10-year-old St. Margaret Mary student told his mother that “Father Steve” singled him out at an after-school club to take a series of “weird” photos on his cell phone. The youth posed with his hands on his knees and legs spread apart, following the priest’s orders, according to the affidavit.

When the parents eventually confronted Pohl about the pictures, the affidavit details, they saw similar pictures of another child on the priest’s phone and reported it to law enforcement.

According to another Courier-Journal report, Louisville Metro Police Crimes Against Children Unit detective Dan Jackman is quoted as saying:

“One can clearly see up the child’s shorts and underwear,” Jackman wrote of one of the photos while another is “focused on the child’s genitals.”

You would think that St. Margaret Mary parishioners would be calling for Father Pohl’s head. Nope. According to WLKY, several Pohl supporters have written U.S. District Judge David Hale, asking him to be lenient when sentencing Pohl on March 29, 2016. After all, Pohl is “presently working with a psychologist. It has assisted me in understanding what is happening here.” What IS happening here? What is happening is that a Catholic priest is sexually attracted to boys and he got caught accessing internet child pornography. He also took photographs of young St. Margaret Mary boys. What more does anyone need to know? Pohl is a pedophile. Does anyone honestly think this was Pohl’s first time looking at child porn? Does anyone seriously think that he looked but didn’t touch? Not me.

While I don’t think Pohl should be locked away for life, I have serious reservations about any treatments that purport to “cure” pedophiles. If there is no cure, should men such as Pohl be permitted to roam free in public? Should they — after 20 hail Marys and 50 Our Fathers — be permitted to return to the church and have access to children? I hope not. Pohl should NEVER be permitted to be alone with children.

And what’s with those who write letters of support? I have noticed in other sex crime cases involving children/teenagers and clergymen that these predators always have supporters urging the courts to not be too hard on the convicted felon. Several years ago, Jack Schaap, former pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, was convicted of a sex crime and sentenced to 12 years in prison. I was astounded by all the letters that were written in his support. Schaap’s supporters commented on this blog, suggesting that Schaap was not to blame for his crimes. He was tired, had medical problems, the girl seduced him, said Schaap supporters.

Why is it that many Christians are unable to see people as they are? I suspect the main reason is cognitive dissonance. On Sundays, members see nice, loving, kind, and supportive Father Pohl or Pastor Schaap. During the week, these “nice” men are surfing child porn sites or shagging church teenagers. Every year, hundreds and hundreds of “nice” preachers are arrested, charged, and convicted of sex crimes. How can these things be? cry church members. On Sundays, these men preached sermons, blessed the communion elements, and glad-handed with parishioners after services. During the week they visited the sick, cared for widows, and took groceries to the hungry. Everything about their lives said these are “nice” men. Yet, in the shadows of their lives, these men committed crimes that Christians and atheists alike find reprehensible. The cognitive dissonance is so great that parishioners convince themselves that their sexual predator pastors and priests are misguided and weak — but still “nice” men. Yet, when asked if they would let their children or grandchildren spend an unsupervised weekend with these men, I suspect most parents and grandparents would emphatically say, NO!

I have long argued that the Christian notion of atonement and forgiveness gets in the way of people seeing sexual predators as they are — men who prey on trusting, defenseless children and teenagers. No amount of prayers, magic mumbo-jumbo at an old-fashioned altar, or confessions can erase the fact that these men committed heinous crimes. They are not “nice” men. They are sexual predators who deserve punishment for their crimes. Let the mothers of convicted sexual predators tell the courts how “nice” their sons are. That is what mothers do. Church members, however, should spend their time helping the victims and making sure such crimes NEVER happen again. Louisville Catholics should be demanding a full accounting from diocese officials. What did they know and when did they know it? Were they aware of Pohl’s perverse desires? If they were, what steps did they take to make sure he no longer had access to parish children? As is the case in many Catholic parishes, sex crimes by priests are buried with the hope that they will remain so until the statute of limitations runs out. Just what Jesus would do, right?

In 2016, Pohl was sentenced to 33 months in prison.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Matt Martin

    Oh yeah. The Church of a Thousand Hands.

    I watched the video footage of the arch-diocesan officials responding to this. First the chancellor then his Grace the Archbishop himself.

    It’s all cant. If you want to see a less varnished but more revealing performance just Google “Cardinal George Pell Royal Commission Ballarat.” Most instructive.

    If Pohl hasn’t been laicised (aka “defrocked” or dismissed from the clerical state) then he remains incardinated in the Archdiocese and presumably still in receipt of his priestly stipend. Canon law requires that. Also, only the Vatican can defrock a cleric (ie a deacon, priest or bishop) and Rome is notorious for dragging it’s feet when it comes to sacking pervert priests.

    I would guess that Pohl has had his priestly faculties revoked meaning he’s prohibited from performing any of the sacramental acts proper to a priest (baptism, absolution, anointing the sick or witnessing marriages) but is yet to be suspended pending laicisation.

    Don’t believe these people and don’t fall for the sweet words that fall from the lips of Pope Frank. Nothing of substance has changed. The Holy Mother Church doesn’t give a singular fuck for the victims, She’s only interested in protecting Herself.

    • Avatar
      Benny S

      Well, [ 😉 ] since you’ve mentioned Cardinal Pell, I feel it’s obligatory to highlight Tim Minchin’s masterpiece song about the guy:


  2. Avatar

    I wonder if it’s hard for non-catholics (I’m an ex catholic) to understand the cult of personality that happens when it comes to the priesthood. The lay people are unable to see these criminals for what they are because they’re taught priests are the “hand of god.” (Yeah, those words take on a different meaning when it comes to pedophiles!) It’s kind of like how atheists are seen as the “hand of satan.” Priests are rock stars in the church…they have power that is never to be questioned because it comes directly from god. They might be less powerful than the pope, but their power still comes from a deity. Those who accuse holy men of bad things are working with satan to “bring down the faithful.” This might be something that is hard to understand if you’ve not been held under the sway of the church yourself.

    When I initially lost my faith 1.5 years ago, the sex abuse scandals were not part of the reason I left. I never paid much attention to them because we were taught not to give satan, The Accuser, any more power. Only after some time did my indoctrination crack and I was able to see the horror of these crimes clearly.

    The truth is the catholic church should been seen as a cult…and those who are in the cult are so damaged they don’t know what’s in front of their faces. In my small diocese in Minnesota we have now, as of this year, 14 priests accused of sodomizing and abusing hundreds of boys (including the priest at the church I attended and tithed to). It’s insanity on so many levels it’s hard to wrap your head around.

  3. Avatar

    Forgot to say, if you think catholics won’t let their children hang out alone with priests, you’re dead wrong. A child being chosen to be with a priest shows the “favor of god.” Indoctrination and delusion know no bounds in the One True Church. 🙁

    • Avatar
      Matt Martin

      Hey Violet

      I think part of the horror has to do with the institutional nature of the Church. I’m Australian and here the fucker is part of the very fabric of society, much like it is in Ireland. It has it’s own (state funded) school system. It has it’s own (state funded) hospitals and aged and disability care facilities. Gallingly it takes the Queen’s shilling but is exempt from her laws which protect minorities and women from being discriminated against.

      Question this and you’re accused in the most shrill tones of infringing on their “religious freedoms.” Like the freedom to bum rape young boys?

      Like you, I’m an ex-catholic. I was sent to a Catholic boarding school and am well familiar with the monstrosities visited on vulnerable children by sadistic clerics and deranged religious. The predations of these characters over centuries has resulted in a Royal Commission over here which has been going on for 3 years and will continue for at least another 18 months. Granted it’s not just looking into the Fish-eaters but be sure they take the lion’s share of the Commission’s time and effort.

      But this is the story of the Church the world around. In Mexico the crimes of the Legionaries of Christ and it’s founder Marcial Maciel (a particular favourite of St. John Paul II) border on the faint making.

      There’s a marvelous documentary on the experience of the American Church called “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” If you’ve not seen it I recommend it but be warned it’s not easy viewing.

      • Avatar

        Thanks, I will definitely watch it. The crimes of the church must be exposed and the more people who see the stories, the better. When I was a catholic I stuck my head in the sand, but no more will I play into their excuses. One of the reasons the church is declaring bankruptcy all over the US is so they don’t have to go to trial and have the stories of the abused made public…it’s a clever strategy. There is an excellent documentary about a pedophile priest from California, and in it the victims get into detail about how this trusted “father” abused them. When you hear the stories it’s harder to depersonalize the crimes. Here’s the movie, and like the one you suggested, it’s not easy viewing:

  4. Avatar
    J.D. Matthews

    If one admits the leader of one’s religion is wrong or flawed, it’s not a significant leap to then question the veracity of the entire religion. This, I suspect, is why people defend their disgraced religious leaders so zealously. The house of cards is already delicately balanced as is. When one support pillar is yanked away, the others will swiftly fall. And for religion to fall, for most people, is tantamount to one’s entire life being a complete lie and waste. Not only one’s own life, but the lives of other beloved faithful gone on before.

    Thus, everything is expendable in the name of keeping the religious lie alive. If families can be rent asunder, friendships revoked, wars fought and societies torn apart, all in the name of that religion, then of course it is of proportionally little consequence if a child should be molested or a woman raped. The preservation of the faith supercedes all.

  5. Avatar

    It’s so odd and funny to see someone arbitrarily judging sexual desires as ‘perverse’ and then turning around and calling other people who judge different sexual desires as perverse ‘bigots.’

    Where does the hilarity end with most atheists? By what moral standard do you judge anything at all?

    If you were REALLY honest, and REALLY freethinking your logic would lead you to the inevitable conclusion of atheistic naturalism which is that you don’t have free will, your reasoning is purely illusory, all moral judgements of any kind are non sequitur, and there is no ultimate purpose and meaning to anything.

    It’s for this reason that I think you have to be near brain dead or totally emotionally driven to even scratch the surface of pure materialist atheism, because those conclusions are counter to the intuition of the vast majority of people on earth.

    The only true atheists are nihilists.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      If I was really honest, I would tell people like you to go fuck themselves.

      Evolution, along with cultural, societal, and tribal norms dictate what is considered moral. It is universally believed that child pornography is wrong. Some God didn’t tell us this, nor did a religious text establish that child porn is sin/wrong/criminal. When people gather together into groups they develop codes of conduct, some of which become what we calls laws. These laws help groups to function–providing safety and security. When people threaten our safety and security, they are punished. Coming to a common understanding about behavior takes time–often centuries–and is always somewhat subjective.

      When it comes to pornography, we make a distinction between children and adults. Children lack the requite reasoning skills necessary for them to make a rational choice about whether to involve themselves with pornography. We rightly protect our progeny (because we desire their survival) until they are mature enough to make decisions on their own. Consenting adults are free to act sexually in any manner they so desire. Surely you understand this, or do you leave all thinking to your non-existent God?

      Atheism provides no moral basis for living. This is why most atheists turn to humanism to provide a moral foundation for their lives. Perhaps you are ignorant of this fact, so here is the latest Humanist Manifesto:

      Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

      The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

      This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

      Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

      Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

      Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

      Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

      Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

      Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

      Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

      Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

      I find it interesting that you made no effort to respond to the actual intent of this post. I would think a religious person such as yourself would condemn child pornography, yet you said nothing. Why is this? If you want to argue that it is your God or his/her/it divine religious text condemns child pornography, you will have to do more than assert that these things are true. I know of no verse in any religious text that explicitly says child pornography is wrong. So, your God is silent, your religious text is silent, yet we as a society say child pornography is wrong. Why is this? Perhaps we as a species desire to protect, nurture, and educate our children. Good parents give their children moral instruction. Again, we don’t need a God for this training to take place. I can’t believe you haven’t thought about these things.

      There is much more I could say here, but this will suffice. I hope you said everything you needed to say because this was your one and only opportunity to set me straight.

      BTW, you show great ignorance concerning atheism, thinking that all atheists are strict materialists and deny freewill. You really should get out of your basement more often. You might learn that many atheists readily admit that religion and religious texts inform their moral decision making process. We live in a world dominated by religion, so it is reasonable to think that religious teachings will influence us to some degree. The difference, however, is that atheists are free to pick and choose what they believe, recognizing that religious texts like the Christian Bible are an admixture of wisdom, moral instruction, and bat shit crazy stuff that any reasonable person would reject. True Believers are required to believe the bat shit crazy stuff, so in many ways the atheist is morally superior.

      Thanks for commenting.


  6. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    A while back, I checked out the Facebook page for alumni of my old Catholic school, which closed about 15 years ago. I know that at least three of the priests in our church (which is still open) have been accused of sexual molestation and abuse–including the one who abused me. While one of those prelates had, shall we say, a reputation, alumni posting on the page insisted that the other two–including the one who abused me–weren’t “that kind of person” and “never would have done” such things. Therefore, those alumni concluded, those of us (who weren’t named) who accused those priests are “liars” and worse.

    That is how too many priests, other clergy members and other “upstanding members of the community” get away with such things.

  7. Avatar

    I have a totally different philosophy when it comes to Catholic priests being accused of sexual abuse. Instead of ” I don’t believe those accusation against Father So-and-So, My thought process is ” How quickly can I throw you under the bus”. I mean as a figure of speech and not literally, although there is a part of me that wishes I could physically throw them under a slow moving bus. The reason I would not throw some priest guilty of sexually abusing children under a speeding bus is that I would not want to take a chance of the driver and passengers of same bus being injured due to my actions.

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Bruce Gerencser