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Cleveland priest sentenced to life in prison for child pornography, exploitation

Autumn Jones By Autumn Jones for CNA

(Image: Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock)

Cleveland, Ohio, Nov 10, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

On Tuesday, Father Robert McWilliams was sentenced to life in prison on convictions of sex trafficking of youths under 18, child pornography, and sexual exploitation of children. The verdict was handed down in the U.S. District Court in Akron, Ohio.

McWilliams, 41, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland in May 2017, and served at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Strongsville, Ohio, until he was arrested in December 2019. In July of this year, he pled guilty to eight federal charges.

According to court documents, McWilliams had thousands of photos and videos of child pornography, which were located and seized from a search at McWilliams’ residence at St. Joseph Catholic Church in 2019. Authorities also alleged that McWilliams forced teenage boys to provide him with sexually explicit images, and “paid two boys below the age of 18 for sex acts,” according to an Associated Press report.

A 26-page sentencing brief includes the experiences of at least five victims, all of whom were minors. The brief also states that McWilliams was using apps like “TextMe” and “TextNow” to hide his phone number when communicating with minors. McWilliams reportedly used Dropbox to store more than 128,000 images of child pornography.

Additionally, McWilliams used Craigslist and the application Grindr to locate young males and arrange sexual encounters.

In the sentencing brief, the authors state that “McWilliams’ criminal conduct is multi-faceted and unprecedented,” and that he “violated the sacrament of confession to obtain information he later used, under aliases, to seek the production of sexually explicit material from boys he was ‘counseling.’”

“McWilliams targeted a vulnerable population that is also our most valuable resource: our children,” the brief states. “His conduct is beyond serious and demands an appropriately lengthy sentence.”

The Diocese of Cleveland is actively pursuing the dismissal of McWilliams from the clerical state, according to a Nov. 9 statement. Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Cleveland extended his appreciation for law enforcement and the judicial system, “who worked so hard to ensure that justice was served and that McWilliams’ wrongdoing was justly punished.”

“Today, with the sentencing of Robert McWilliams, let us once again, as a family of faith, offer prayers for all those impacted by his reprehensible actions and ask our loving Father to heal any and all wounds they have suffered,” Bishop Malesic said.

During sentencing, McWilliams read from a letter he said he wrote to a victim, saying that the actions were his fault, “not the church or the priesthood,” and that he prayed the victim’s “faith in God and in the church will be healed.” He also said he was “ashamed and sorrowful for my actions and my sins,” and offered his prayers to the victim.

Bishop Malesic also asked for “support and thanks to all the good priests” of the diocese, “who faithfully live out their promises each day in service to God’s people.”


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8 Comments

  1. I am sure the Holy Spirit informed many of this young man’s demons but they just didn’t trust themselves. A lesson for all followers of Jesus Christ; Reason is not enough in this world of the seen and unseen.

  2. There are many fine priests in the Diocese of Cleveland who do not deserve to have their reputations tarnished by the crimes of McWilliams. That said, this is a very troubling case and not the only scandal (although the ones I am thinking of were not criminal) involving younger priests in the Diocese over the last few years. Cleveland is doing well in regard to vocations relative to most other US dioceses. Unfortunately, even when it comes to apparently devout and energetic priests, one must not automatically assume that problems do not exist.

  3. He was ordained in 2017 and arrested in 2019. One has to ask how did he manage to hide his problems. Was it a lack of oversight or was he just very clever in hiding his disorders.

    • My question, too. Ordained in his late 30’s, he obviously had a life before that, but nothing noted that would keep him out of the seminary? Were there no red flags in the seminary? All this happened AFTER the Dallas Charter and the improved protocols for seminaries. This is troubling.

      • Yes. Did they do criminal background checks on people coming in? I would hope do. I also find it hard to believe they didn’t notice a predatory homosexual man in the midst of an all male seminary for all those years. Did they decide to just be “ inclusive “ and let it slide?!

  4. We should clearly differentiate cases where delinquents have abused using the investiture of the priesthood to commit their crimes and those cases where the hierarchy permitted or was lenient with priests that committed crimes.
    This seems to be a case where McWilliams just used his investiture, took advantage of the church to commit his crimes, and we should not talk about Father McWilliams since probably he really never was.
    This case is more similar to a soldier or a policeman which uses the institution he belongs to to commit a crime, such as treason. It is not the institution which is at fault.

  5. My dear Catholic brothers and sisters,
    Robert McWilliams is an imposter who does not believe in God. Do not believe anything he says. He is an evil person who only lives for this life. There are many imposters in the priesthood just like him. Do not let the likes of this man hurt all of God’s holy and wonderful priests who help all of us who love Christ and His Church. There are imposters in high authority who are known and should be sent to jail. Imposter Cardinal McCarthy who was allowed to advance in authority with the help of many in the same club should be put in jail. Yes, there are homosexual clergy who are known and should also be exposed and dismissed if they are living a sinful life inside the Church. If their dismissal will lead to less priests to help God’s children, then let it be. Allowing this to continue is not God’s will. It is the work of the Evil One in the Church causing distrust and confusion.

  6. Dear Editor,
    All the above 5 comments were derogatory with nice words and got published.
    My article just told the truth about a man sent to prison for life together with what is happening in our Catholic Church. Who am I offending? Not God!!!

    My dear Catholic brothers and sisters,
    Robert McWilliams is an imposter who does not believe in God. Do not believe anything he says. He is an evil person who only lives for this life. There are many imposters in the priesthood just like him. Do not let the likes of this man hurt all of God’s holy and wonderful priests who help all of us who love Christ and His Church. There are imposters in high authority who are known and should be sent to jail. Imposter Cardinal McCarthy who was allowed to advance in authority with the help of many in the same club should be put in jail. Yes, there are homosexual clergy who are known and should also be exposed and dismissed if they are living a sinful life inside the Church. If their dismissal will lead to less priests to help God’s children, then let it be. Allowing this to continue is not God’s will. It is the work of the Evil One in the Church causing distrust and confusion.

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