CLEVELAND — A Strongsville Roman Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to charges of multiple sex crimes against teenage boys has officially been dismissed from the clerical state, the Diocese of Cleveland confirmed Tuesday.
The "defrocking" of Robert D. "Bob" McWilliams came directly from Pope Francis and the Vatican, meaning it is final and impossible to appeal. From this point forward, McWilliams will no longer be considered a member of the Catholic clergy.
McWilliams was working at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Strongsville when he was arrested on multiple child pornography-related charges. Federal authorities later got involved, and confirmed McWilliams' crimes spanned back to his time at St. Helen Church in Newbury Township following his 2017 ordination as a priest.
3News cameras were there when McWilliams was taken into custody:
According to investigators, McWilliams possessed tens thousands of illegal images on multiple digital devices, and in some cases used the sins young boys told him about in confession to extort them into sending him pornographic pictures. Those he took advantage of ranged in age from 9 to 18, and he also paid two teens to perform sex acts for him online.
McWilliams admitted this past July to eight criminal counts involving sex trafficking, obtaining and transporting child pornography, and sexual exploitation. The 41-year-old later received a lifetime prison sentence, and announced in court he would "resign" from the priesthood.
Per protocols enacted in 2002 after the Catholic Church's global child sex abuse crisis, the Diocese of Cleveland immediately removed McWilliams from active ministry after his arrest and placed him on leave. Following his guilty plea, officials confirmed they would seek to have him permanently removed from the clergy, and their wishes were granted this week.
"We continue, as a family of faith, to offer prayers and support for his victims and for all those impacted by his reprehensible actions," the diocese said in a statement after news McWilliams' defrocking was made public. "We ask our loving Father to heal any and all wounds they have suffered."
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O'Malley told 3News more than a year ago that the diocese cooperated with his office's investigation, adding he had no reason to believe local Church leaders knew of McWilliams' behavior prior to his arrest. Anyone with concerns regarding possible sexual abuse by clergy is urged to call the Diocese of Cleveland's confidential tip line at (216) 334-2999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.