Porn Priest Spared Jail

Salisbury Journal [United Kingdom]
July 13, 2006

A Roman Catholic priest walked free from a court but with his career in tatters this week after admitting sending pornographic photographs of children over the internet.

Father Barnaby Dowling was caught in a trawl by detectives who linked him to a child pornography ring.

The 47-year-old priest, of St Osmund's Church in Salisbury, had an unblemished 22-year record until he was snared in the police probe. Magistrates in Andover, where he appeared for sentence on Monday, told Dowling he deserved a custodial sentence for admitting eight offences relating to indecent pictures of children.

Barnaby Dowling, arriving at court in Salisbury for a previous hearing.

However, presiding magistrate Jackie Lampard said Dowling's penalty would best be served in the community. She ordered him to attend a three-year sex offenders' rehabilitation programme.

But after the hearing, the sentence was attacked by a child protection organisation. Director of Kidscape Michelle Elliott said: "This sends the wrong message. We must remember every one of those images represents an abused child."

Becky Abbott, prosecuting, told the court Dowling had been viewing pornographic material on the internet for about five years.

He was caught in a national investigation by Devon and Cornwall police in October 2004.

"He would go into a chatroom, view images over a period of a few days, then stop for some time, knowing how he felt," said Ms Abbott.

She said Dowling would forward indecent images mostly of the lower level one or two mixed with images of women, to other users.

Officers swooped on his address in Exeter Street, Salisbury, and seized computer equipment. They found more than 100 images in all, many of which Dowling thought he had deleted.

Paul Jones, defending, said Dowling's career as a parish priest was finished.

"He has been struggling in recent times in his life in the clergy and particularly because he has been suffering from a form of depression," said Mr Jones. He showed the court four A4 envelopes, which he said were full of hundreds of letters of support.

"One of his main pleasures in life was interacting with the parishioners and helping them," added Mr Jones. "He is never going to be in a position to do that again."

Sentencing Dowling, Mrs Lampard told him: "We consider that these offences are serious enough for a custodial sentence.

"However, in order to protect the public for a longer period and to rehabilitate you, we believe a community order is the correct way to proceed."

Dowling was also banned from working with children in a paid or voluntary capacity for three years. He was also told to live at an address stipulated by the probation service for three years.

He must hand over his contact details to police and pay 43 towards prosecution costs. Magistrates also ordered the forfeiture of Dowling's computer equipment.

Dowling made no comment as he left the court, surrounded by friends and family.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Clifton issued a statement on the case, which said: "The Church regards offences against children and young people, including internet related offences, very seriously.

"In accordance with national guidelines, the diocese co-operated fully with the statutory authorities throughout this investigation.

"The diocesan authorities acknowledge the wide-ranging impact and pain that this conviction is having on the Catholic community and the wider community in which we live.

"In particular we are very concerned for parishioners in Salisbury, whom we hold in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.

"The diocesan authorities will consider what action is necessary and appropriate in the future with regard to Father Barnaby Dowling whilst he remains on administrative leave."


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