January 2011

Court told celibacy drove priest to look at child porn

A Catholic priest who blamed his celibacy for his compulsion to look at child pornography on the internet has been jailed for eight months.

Father John Shannon, 58, of The Elms, Chatteris, downloaded 740 indecent photographs of children as young as nine.

At the time, the East Anglian priest was a part-time lecturer at Ushaw College, near Durham City. He retired from ministry after his arrest and has since resigned.

Durham Crown Court heard yesterday police were called in by the college authorities last June because someone had made attempts to access restricted websites.

The culprit was identified as Shannon and officers went to his home and seized his computer. Analysis revealed it contained 740 indecent images of children – mostly boys.

In a prepared statement to police, Shannon said it was “curiosity and lack of self-control that led him to access these websites and it became a compulsion”.

Some of the images were kept by Shannon as screensavers.

At a previous hearing Shannon admitted 16 counts of making indecent images of children and one charge of possessing indecent images of children.

Andrew Finlay, in mitigation, said Shannon had been a priest for 30 years and had to be celibate.

He said: “He has never had a chance to explore his sexuality. It has remained bottled up and boxed up and he thinks it may be to do with that unexplored sexuality.”

Judge Christopher Prince placed Shannon the sex offenders register for 10 years and banned him from working with children for life.

Afterwards, The Rt Rev Michael Evans, Bishop of East Anglia, said: “Any form of abuse of children, including that involved in the production of indecent images, is something we cannot tolerate as Christians.

“Children are always damaged in some way by such abuse. I apologise profoundly that a priest of this diocese has been involved in this way.”