A CATHOLIC priest who claimed his celibacy compelled him to view child pornography was yesterday jailed for eight months.

Father John Shannon, 58, downloaded 740 indecent photographs of children as young as nine last year while a lecturer at the 200-year-old St Cuthbert’s Seminary, at Ushaw College, near Durham City. Durham Crown Court heard police were called last June when officials uncovered attempts to access restricted websites from their new computer system.

Jane Mitford, prosecuting, said analysis of Shannon’s home computer revealed there were 521 pictures of level one seriousness (the lowest) 133 at level two, eight at level three, 75 at level four and three at level five – the most serious category.

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He told detectives it was “curiosity and lack of selfcontrol”

that led him to access these websites and that it became a compulsion.

Ms Mitford said: “He thought that as it didn’t directly involve anybody other than himself, it did no harm.”

Shannon, a priest of the diocese of East Anglia, admitted in interview that he received sexual gratification from viewing the pictures.

At a previous hearing, Shannon, who was bailed to an address in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, admitted 16 counts of making indecent images of children and one of possessing indecent images of children.

Andrew Finlay, mitigating, said Shannon had been a priest, and therefore celibate, for 30 years.

“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.”

Jailing him for eight months, Judge Christopher Prince placed Shannon on the sex offender register for ten years and banned him from working with children for life.

Shannon previously worked within the diocese of East Anglia, serving parishes in Peterborough and Norfolk and in the Chaplaincy at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, before moving to the seminary – a training centre for priests.

There were no previous complaints of inappropriate behaviour with children.

The Right Reverend Michael Evans, Bishop of East Anglia, said: “Any 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.”

A statement issued by St Cuthbert’s Seminary and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle said it had improved the monitoring of internet use at Ushaw College and that staff had swiftly been alerted to Shannon’s use of inappropriate websites.

It said: “We are mindful that the images found in Father Shannon’s possession were of children who should expect to be protected and not exploited.

“To have such images viewed by anyone is regrettable.

John Shannon is a priest and therefore in a position of trust. His actions in viewing and downloading such material cannot and should not be condoned or excused.

“Now that Father Shannon has been sentenced, we hope that we can move on from what has been a deeply distressing time for both students and staff.”