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Oxford theology professor, former pastor sentenced to prison for child porn possession

Oxford theology professor, former pastor sentenced to prison for child porn possession

Rare biblical texts being digitized in a major Vatican/Oxford University project; video uploaded Nov. 21, 2013. | Bodleian Libraries YouTube vis screencap

A former pastor and Oxford University professor of theology has been sentenced to a year in prison for possessing thousands of images and videos of child porn.

Jan Joosten, who is considered to be one of the most regarded biblical scholars of his generation, was sentenced on June 15 in Saverne, France, and placed on the country's sex offender registry. The 61-year-old Belgian academic had downloaded approximately 28,000 images and videos of child abuse, which reportedly included depictions of child rape.

Thousands of images and videos were downloaded over the course of six years and were discovered following a lengthy investigation by cybercrime authorities in Strasbourg, France. Joosten expressed relief that he was arrested and described his behavior as "a secret garden, in contradiction with myself."

The French court also sentenced him to a three-year treatment program and prohibited him from participating in any activities in which he would interact with minors. Reports indicate that Joosten was not immediately remanded to prison and an independent judge might yet amend his sentence.

Joosten has yet to decide whether he will appeal the decision. His attorneys argued that he should not be imprisoned because he is a first time offender, presents little risk of reoffending, and had voluntarily sought psychiatric help, The Guardian reported. 

In response to the court's decision, Oxford University's Christ Church issued a statement Monday that it amended on Thursday, saying: 

"We can confirm that, following the conviction in France of professor Jan Joosten for possession of images and videos of child pornography, he has been suspended by the Faculty of Oriental Studies and Christ Church pending further action. Christ Church has also notified local police in the U.K. and we are assisting their ongoing inquiries. 

The university has informed any staff and students who would have had contact with him and has provided them with the contacts of the welfare and support services, in case any of them require additional support.

We were horrified to learn, through the media, of professor Joosten’s conviction. He has been found guilty of shocking crimes and we cannot begin to imagine the suffering endured by those in the images he accessed. Our thoughts are with them and with anyone affected by this news. ..."

Since 2014, Joosten has served as the Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford. He was previously a professor of Old Testament at the University of Strasbourg in France. Until this month he was a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and was the editor-in-chief of Vetus Testamentum, a journal studying the Old Testament.

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