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.”
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?
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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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