INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Computers, computer equipment and unknown items in boxes were removed from the rectory office of St. Ann’s Catholic Church on Tuesday in Independence, Mo.
Federal investigators said on February 5, between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning, there were two downloads of child pornography from peer-to-peer file sharing sites to an IP address registered at St. Ann’s church rectory, where the priest, Father Bernard Branson lives.
The church had an open Wifi system, which allows for the possibility that someone outside the parish used the ‘free’ Internet service to make the downloads. To determine if this is what happened, investigators seized four desktop computers and towers from inside the church rectory.
Carrie Cooper, who heads the diocese’s new Office of Child Protection said she’s waiting for results of a forensic exam of the church computers to determine who downloaded the child porn.
“The church does not tolerate child sexual abuse, or child abuse, or pornography of any kind,” Cooper said. “We will work fully. We will cooperate fully with law enforcement until this matter is resolved.”
Father Branson recently celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest, according to The Catholic Key. He also served at St. Mary in Independence; Holy Trinity in Kansas City; Our Lady of Lourdes in Raytown; St. Therese in Parkville; Good Shepherd in Smithville; Annunciation in Kearney and the now-closed Blessed Sacrament in Kansas City.
“He is such sweet priest. We all love him,” said Romelle O’Renick, a parishoner.
Cooper said no one was arrested and no one from the church is on administrative leave.