A paedophile priest who watched videos of children being raped online today walked free from court.
Father Thomas Wood visited internet chat rooms late at night to join dozens of perverts in viewing the sickening clips.
Liverpool Crown Court heard the footage showed children as young as eight being molested by adults in horrifying ways.
Wood’s Internet Protocol (IP) address led police to the presbytery of Our Lady’s church in Southport Road, Lydiate.
The 55-year-old, of Liverpool Road, Birkdale, was formerly the long serving priest at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Seaforth.
He took a dual role in Lydiate at Our Lady’s and St Gregory The Great in 2015, but stepped down when arrested last March.
Simon Duncan, prosecuting, said Wood was caught in a U.S. investigation into paedophiles abusing video conferencing facilities.
The Department of Homeland Security contacted British authorities about the project, titled Reapplier, in February 2017.
The National Crime Agency discovered Wood used his iPad to access conferences on chat room site Zoom in November 2015.
Videos streamed in the conferences were recorded by U.S. investigators on November 12 and November 13 that year.
Just before midnight on November 12, Wood was one of 47 users watching a video showing children aged 10 to 16 being abused.
He logged on again at around 1am and joined 50 people looking at a girl, aged eight to 10, being raped by a man.
On November 13, just before 2am, he was one of 50 perverts who watched two boys, aged 10 to 12, having sex.
When arrested, Wood told police: “I may have looked at something on the internet.”
Mr Duncan said: “He said he wanted to meet other men and watch them masturbate. He claimed he had no sexual interest in children.”
When interviewed in June, Wood said he had thrown the iPad away because it was faulty, but police seized his mobile phone and hard drive.
They provided evidence of him chatting about his sexual interest in children, but he again denied this to officers.
After three temporary internet files were found, he admitted making and possessing three Category A – the most serious – indecent images.
Judge Clement Goldstone, QC, said Wood wrote a letter which was “one of the most powerful statements of mitigation the court has ever considered”.
He said: “It’s a tragedy that someone who has had so much to offer, over such a long period of time, should find himself before this court.
“A good character is far easier to lose than it is to acquire. You acquired it over many years service in the church.
“I have no doubt that during that period you were wrestling with demons and that for a large proportion of that time, you managed to resist those demons.
“But there came a time when the demons got the upper hand.”
Judge Goldstone said Wood used the chat rooms to chat with others about their “respective perversions and fantasies”.
He said: “It’s apparent to me having read your letter that you are well aware of the enormous and indeed incalculable harm that is done to young children who are exposed to this type of abuse.”
The judge said if there was any doubt Wood was acknowledging his need for help, then his previous good character would not have saved him from prison.
He said a short jail sentence would not be in the public interest, as it would not address why Wood had offended.
Judge Goldstone said it was not known how the church would deal with him, but added: “You have in all probability lost the entitlement to call yourself Father Wood.”
He handed Wood a three-year community order, with a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement of up to 30 days.