Father William McCandless. (Photo: delawareonline)
A priest of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales who is a former principal of a Catholic all-boys high school in Wilmington was indicted and arraigned Dec. 3 in U.S. District Court on three counts of child pornography offenses.
Father William McCandless, 56, was charged with possessing child pornography for importation into the Unites States, transporting child pornography in interstate and foreign commerce, and attempting to access with intent to view child pornography. If convicted, he faces as many as 60 years in prison.
He was arraigned in Philadelphia before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and ordered to be placed on home incarceration with electronic monitoring and to surrender his passport because he has frequently traveled overseas and has numerous contacts abroad.
McCandless was assigned to St. Charles Parish in the European principality of Monaco from 2010-17. He was principal at Salesianum School in the Diocese of Wilmington from 2005-2009; the high school is operated by his religious order.
According to charging documents, while he was working overseas in Monaco, McCandless amassed a collection of thousands of images of child pornography, including some involving torture, which he brought back with him to the United States when he returned in January 2017.
Further, once back in the United States, the defendant allegedly attempted to access similar images, and also conducted Internet searches for things like how to get "off the grid," how to "disappear" and how to erase items from "the cloud."
"McCandless's alleged conduct here is extremely disturbing. It occurred not just overseas but continued while he crossed international borders, purporting to do the work of the church," U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in a statement.
A profile on the Oblates website said Father McCandless of Wilmington also had been an instructor at De Sales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, a school minister at the former Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia, a parochial vicar at Paroisse-Saint Charles in Monaco and adviser to Princess Charlene of Monaco.
Brendan Kennealey, current president at Salesianum, said Father McCandless had served at the school while he was a seminarian and later was a guidance counselor before being named principal. He said school officials were told by investigators with the U.S. attorney's office that none of the alleged incidents involving the priest happened while he was at Salesianum and did not involve any of the school's students.
"They assured us that they had no evidence of any wrongdoing while at Salesianum or with any Salesianum students," Kennealey said.
Kennealey said a letter was sent home to school families.
The school also issued a statement and said the firm of Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, founded by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, was hired in November to review Father McCandless's time at the school, where he worked a total of 11 years. The firm's preliminary findings confirm the government's account of Father McCandless's tenure at Salesianum, according to the statement.
Kennealey said school officials have fully cooperated with investigators. He said if the ongoing independent investigation yields any additional information, it will be shared with the federal prosecutor.
The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing crime of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Led by U.S. attorneys' offices and the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims, according to the U.S. attorney.