Father James Jackson, FSSP, delivers the homily at the funeral Mass for Eric Talley, March 29, 2021, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo. / Screenshot of FSSP YouTube video
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 6, 2021 / 08:55 am (CNA).
In the weeks leading up to his arrest on child pornography charges, Father James W. Jackson wrote at length in his parish bulletin about sex abuse scandals perpetrated by “psychosexually dysfunctional” priests, singling out former cardinal Theodore McCarrick as a “creep” who hid a sinful private life with outward good works with the help of corrupt friends in the Catholic hierarchy.
“Any man who tries to live his celibacy without faith, sanctifying grace and a serious life of prayer and dedication to the interior life will eventually (and sometimes this takes only a few years) turn to empty amusements and pleasures in drink, food, fancy vacations at best and pornography and the pursuit of sexual relationships at worst,” he wrote.
“Without the faith (I mean real belief in God) and the pursuit of the interior life,” he continued, “celibacy just creates a class of professional bachelors who are still saying Mass and doing baptisms, but are overcome with isolation and even depression.”
“They naturally turn to the natural for consolation,” he warned. “And with that turning from God, there is hell to pay.”
Jackson’s writings appear in weekly church bulletins of his former parish, St. Mary’s Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Reviewed by CNA, they provide a window into the priest’s thoughts at a time when authorities allege Jackson possessed and distributed child sex abuse material online.
Jackson, 66, was arrested Oct. 30 by members of a Rhode Island state task force executing a search warrant at St. Mary’s rectory. He was charged with possession of child pornography, transfer of child pornography, and child erotica prohibited.
Two days after his arrest, federal authorities filed additional charges against him — distributing child pornography and possessing and accessing with intent to view child pornography — in U.S. District Court in Providence.
A forensic analyst with the Rhode Island State Police found “hundreds of image and video files depicting [child sexual abuse material]” during an on-scene forensic preview of a two-terabyte external hard drive located in an office area adjacent to Jackson’s bedroom, according to an affidavit filed in support of the federal charges.
“These image and video files depicted prepubescent females, including infants and toddlers, engaged in sexual acts,” the affidavit states.
Jackson was released from custody with electronic monitoring Wednesday on an unsecured bond. A federal magistrate has permitted him to live with a relative in his home state of Kansas until the charges against him are adjudicated, though a Providence television station has reported that Jackson has COVID-19 and must fully recover before leaving Rhode Island.
Meanwhile, an online fundraising campaign has garnered tens of thousands of dollars for Jackson’s defense fund, with many contributors attesting to his character and asserting his innocence.
A former Marine and rugby player
Jackson, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), became pastor at St. Mary’s Aug. 1. Prior to his assignment in Providence, Jackson spent 15 years at the FSSP apostolate at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado.
Jackson is the author of “Nothing Superfluous,” a book about “the rich theological meaning behind the art, architecture, words and gestures of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Rite of St. Gregory the Great.”
In the biography he provided in the St. Mary’s bulletin shortly after he arrived in the parish, Jackson said was raised “nominally Protestant” in Kansas.
“My boyhood was spent playing sports, hunting, fishing, camping and participating in the Boy Scouts (I didn’t get my Eagle),” he wrote.
“I especially liked winter camping. I learned snow skiing at Steamboat Springs, CO in 1963 and have been an avid skier since. I also picked up scuba diving and dove for about 22 years. I even dove down to see a German U-Boat which the U.S. Navy sunk in 1945 located a quarter of a nautical mile off Narragansett, RI.”
Jackson said his studies in the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas, where he played rugby for three years, set him on a new path.
“In this program I fell in love not just with learning but the truth. That was the basis of my conversion to the Catholic Faith,” he wrote. He said he was received into the Church in 1976.
“I thought I wanted a career in the Marine Corps and was in the Platoon Leaders Class for that purpose, but with conversion came an intense desire to serve God more directly,” he wrote.
“I left to enter a Benedictine Monastery in France — Notre Dame de Fontgombault. My vocation was not monastic, and not knowing where to go, I joined the Diocese of Wichita, KS and was ordained in 1985.”
“Slowly but surely” Jackson “fell in love” with the Traditional Latin Mass, and he entered the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps, serving with the 1st Marine Division.
“I joined the FSSP in 1994 and it has been a good home to me,” Jackson wrote at the conclusion of his biography. “And I drive an old red truck.”
Focused on scandals
In the church bulletins CNA reviewed, which span mid-August through Oct. 31,
Jackson covers a wide range of topics, including his strong opposition to priest “burnout,” COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and corruption in the Vatican.
Repeatedly, however, he returns to the subject of sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, including those involving McCarrick and the recent disclosure of widespread clerical sexual abuse in France.
“The astounding statement about the abuse of minors in the Church in France is staggering,” he wrote in the Oct. 10 bulletin.
“I want to address this with you by using an American case. I don’t know if what the press is saying in France is the truth, but the truth must be told, the boil lanced, the infection drained. All of which is a very painful process. Please God good will come of this,” Jackson wrote.
Jackson wrote that during his seminary years in Emmitsburg, Maryland he had encountered then-Bishop McCarrick in his role as head sacristan.
Jackson wrote: “At table after one of [McCarrick’s] talks, one of the guys asked me what it was like to work with him. I responded simply that I could hardly stand to be in the same room with him; everything about him repelled me; I thought he was a creep. The seminarian took umbrage at this, thinking the bishop a fine fellow.”
McCarrick was protected by “very powerful American prelates who were experts at deflection,” Jackson wrote.
“They were extraordinarily deft at diverting any accusations or suspicions by such things as vigorously preaching and working to alleviate the hardship of the poor,” he wrote. “As to whether these efforts were truly beneficial to the poor can be disputed.”
Jackson returned to the same theme a week later, writing about what he called the atheistic mindset of many worldly priests and religious.
“Continuing with the question about the scandals from hierarchy and clergy in the One, True Church and to grasp how these men (and nuns) could do such things, we must face a dark truth that their conduct points to one thing especially, that these prelates, clergy and religious were, as a matter of fact, atheists,” he wrote.
“Yes, they were concelebrating Mass and blessing the pets and presiding at fundraising events with prayer, but deep down they were atheists,” he wrote. “In the lives of countless clergy and laity, a consistent and profound compromise with the world has resulted in Catholics being riddled with doubts that paralyze any growth in the interior life.”
Jackson resumed the discourse in the Oct. 24 bulletin.
“Continuing for a bit about the scandals, and using the case of Mr. McCarrick, the easy answer so clung to by many is the practice of mandatory celibacy. Just change the ‘rules,’ let the priests and seminarians marry, and poof, the problem of abuse goes away,” he wrote.
“Now God created us as sexual beings. We have a natural instinct and desire for the marital act. This instinct is powerful, put into us by our Creator, yet it has been damaged and distorted by sin,” he wrote.
“To address this instinct (and its distortion), dioceses and seminaries have turned to psychological examinations, background checks and various ways to address the damage done to young men from a culture saturated with pornography and video games, which are in themselves quite harmful to a vocation,” he went on.
“Training in Virtus or Safe Environment programs is mandatory. I don’t advocate the abandonment of these programs, but I do say that without a serious adherence to the Catholic Faith, and the pursuit of the interior life, they are of little value.”
Final reflections before his arrest
Jackson’s last reflections appear in the Oct. 31 bulletin, which was available at St. Mary’s the weekend of his arrest. In it, he discusses “the golden mean,” which he says is when one “chooses the good over the convenient, the true over the plausible.”
“The loss of virtue and of the golden mean is at the heart of the crisis of faith we experience in the Church of our times,” he wrote. “Without faith, and without the corresponding virtue, the celibate state simply creates a class of professional bachelors who lead pleasant lives with good food and lodging and electronic entertainment but are locked into a depressive and lonely isolation devoid of any form of chaste intimacy.”
He cites the case of Father George Rutler, a New York priest and author who was charged with sexual assault and has since been exonerated.
“Add to this the grim statistic from CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) which claims that 85% of priests are not praying their Divine Office,” he wrote.
“And, if that were not enough, we have the phenomenon of a small but significant minority of men who are drawn to the seminary precisely because they are emotionally immature and psychosexually dysfunctional, and you get a Theodore McCarrick,” Jackson wrote.
“Such men who seek pleasure, comfortable living and amusements turn to minors who are just vulnerable enough to become pliant and coerced.”
The bulletins may also shed some light on Jackson’s whereabouts while authorities were monitoring a peer-to-peer sharing network that contained child sex abuse material.
In the Sept. 26 bulletin, Jackson wrote that he planned to leave for a monthly day of recollection that afternoon. According to the affidavit, a detective observed a computer or other device accessing the network on Sept. 26 at 5:32 p.m.
Jackson and St. Mary’s parochial vicar, Father Thu Truong, planned to travel to Nebraska Oct. 25-29 for a recollection and ordination.
Jackson was arrested later that week, on Oct. 30.
He is scheduled to be arraigned on state child pornography charges Nov. 15.