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Predator priest sentenced to 20 years in prison

By the time he was in high school, Mark Haynes felt called to devote his life to the Catholic priesthood.

Mark Haynes pleaded guilty.
Mark Haynes pleaded guilty.Read more

By the time he was in high school, Mark Haynes felt called to devote his life to the Catholic priesthood.

But from a much earlier age, his lawyer said Wednesday, Haynes realized something else that set him apart - an unshakable feeling that by some accident of genetics, he had been born a woman stuck in the body of a man.

Haynes' therapist would later conclude that the dissonance between his vocation and the condition he came to view as an affliction led him to an addiction to child pornography and a series of online predatory sexual encounters with children that have landed the 56-year-old suspended priest in prison.

Federal prosecutors balked at that explanation Wednesday as Haynes, most recently of SS. Simon and Jude Parish in Westtown, was sentenced to 20 years' incarceration, in a case as notable for the charges he will never face as those to which he pleaded guilty last year.

"Transgender does not equate to sexually abusing children. It doesn't make him a pedophile," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rotella said. "He was victimizing children from almost the start of his career."

Two former parishioners came forward after Haynes' 2014 arrest on child-pornography charges to accuse him of sexual abuse dating back more than three decades.

Their claims fell beyond the statute of limitations. But under federal sentencing guidelines the allegations could be considered by U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick in fashioning a punishment for the priest despite Haynes' insistence that he never sexually abused anyone.

In all, prosecutors alleged that Haynes had some form of sexual contact - ranging from online conversations to molestation - with at least 30 children between 1985 and 2014. As part of Haynes' plea deal to child-pornography charges involving two teens, the government agreed to halt any further investigation.

"The crimes that were committed here were outrageous," Surrick said Wednesday. "The individuals that were hurt by these crimes will spend the rest of their lives trying to get beyond it."

Church officials maintain that no abuse allegations had been lodged against Haynes before his 2014 child-pornography arrest.

But prosecutors said Wednesday that even before then, he had shown signs of emotional distress. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia paid for him to receive counseling starting in 1999, including two stints in inpatient treatment.

It was during the more recent of those stays at a church-affiliated mental-health facility outside Toronto a year before his arrest that Haynes first revealed his struggle with gender identity, his lawyer Alan J. Tauber said.

"It is something that created enormous anxieties and dissonance in his life," he said. "He internalized the message that he was fundamentally flawed."

Still, Rotella noted that while Haynes' patient files indicated he had been admitted for "cross-dressing and gender-identity issues," archdiocesan files noted he was being treated for anger management.

For his part, Haynes - a beefy, soft-spoken man whose breath appeared to fail him as he rose to address the judge - turned to the Bible as he expressed remorse to his victims, his fellow priests, and his parishioners.

"My offenses, truly I know them," he said, quoting Psalm 51. "My sin is always before me."

But Wednesday was the first time the full scope of those sins was put on display for his victims and their relatives, some of whom sat in the courtroom gallery as prosecutors quickly flashed through dozens of pornographic images and videos found in Haynes' possession.

"Oh, my God, oh, my God," came the whispered refrain from one woman - the mother of a Washington state girl who was 12 when Haynes, posing online as a 15-year-old named Katie Caponetti, solicited her to send sexually explicit photos of herself.

Chester County detectives arrested him in October 2014 after tracing his online activity to his computer at the rectory at SS. Simon and Jude.

He immediately confessed to routinely posing as a teenage girl online to swap hundreds of pornographic images of children and attempt to persuade minors to send him graphic photos of themselves.

Ordained in 1985, Haynes had served at eight parishes in the Pennsylvania suburbs, also including Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Doylestown; St. John of the Cross in Roslyn; Our Lady of Good Counsel in Southampton; St. Pius X in Broomall; Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Morton; and Annunciation in Havertown.

In addition to his prison term, he was ordered Wednesday to serve 10 years' federal probation after his release and pay a $15,000 fine. He has also agreed to leave the ministry, Tauber said.

"Mark Haynes was incredibly devoted and hardworking, and loved being a priest," he said. "He has confessed his crimes, accepted responsibility, and sought forgiveness from the victims and their families."

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