U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said the public needs to be protected from Timothy Murray, although the punishment was below the 22-year sentence sought by federal prosecutors.
Agents in 2012 found child pornography on seven computers at Murray's home in suburban Detroit, including 685 videos. He subsequently pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing it over the Internet.
The "crimes are stomach-churning. ... It's difficult for me to believe you didn't know what you were doing was criminal," the judge said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy said the videos were "horrific."
Murray, 63, was removed as pastor of a Livonia parish in 2004 after authorities learned that he had molested an altar boy in the 1980s. He admitted the acts but was never charged because the statute of limitations had expired.
The victim attended the court hearing Thursday and sat in the front row.
Murray has no duties as a priest, but he's never been formally removed from the priesthood. Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron this week said he's taking that step. The Detroit Archdiocese has been paying Murray's health insurance since 2006.
Murray said he was sad and remorseful for his actions.
"I had no idea I was a distributor but apparently I was," he told the judge.
Murray was evaluated by a psychologist in August and seemed to make excuses for his conduct, noting the Catholic Church's requirement that priests be celibate.
"That's why I believe so many priests get involved with children. People need intimacy," he said, according to a summary by Ronald Fenton that was filed in court.
Murray also expressed surprise that he was in trouble for watching videos at home. Those comments didn't help him with the judge.
"There is a degree of self-awareness that is truly, truly lacking," Roberts said.
Murray had supporters in the courtroom, including the Rev. Ronald Victor, pastor of St. Isidore Catholic Church in Macomb County.
"In spite of his criminal behavior, I consider Mr. Murray to be a person of good character. One of his strongest traits is his honesty," Victor said in a letter to the judge.
The pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills said Murray was an active member and directed several plays.
"Rather than locking Tim up for the rest of his life, society would be better served by giving him the opportunity to become a contributing member once again," the Rev. Lauren Miller said in a letter.