LEWISBURG, Pa. — The former Cleveland priest sentenced last year on child abuse charges died today, the Union County, Pennsylvania, coroner told 3News Investigates.
Coroner Dominick Adamo said Robert McWilliams died at 2:18 a.m. at Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg. McWilliams was serving a life sentence at the Allenwood federal prison.
His death is being investigated as a suicide. An autopsy will be performed Saturday. Prison officials were not available for comment.
The Diocese of Cleveland released the following statement to 3News: "We learned this afternoon of the passing of Robert McWilliams. We place this and all difficult situations in the hands of God. We will continue to pray for the those hurt by his actions. May God be the source of their healing."
The former priest pleaded guilty last year to federal charges of sex trafficking, child pornography and exploiting children. Among the crimes committed by McWilliams involved taking the confessions he heard from a teenaged boy, intimate confidences the priest then used to extort sexually explicit photos.
In other instances, he paid two boys, ages 16 and 13, that he found online to perform sex acts. He also possessed tens of thousands of pornographic images, some depicting toddlers and infants, court records show.
McWilliams, 41, was ordained in 2017 at served as a priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Strongsville. He was a seminarian at St. Helen Church in Newbury Township where he oversaw a youth program. It was also where he met the family whose children would become his victims.
Two families complained to Geauga County sheriff’s deputies in 2019 after their teenage sons were extorted online for sexually explicit images of themselves. That led to a raid on St. Joseph’s rectory on Dec. 4, 2019.
Seized during the raid were two laptops, a disc drive, a tablet and cell phone, all of which contained various images, emails and videos depicting child pornography. Images of the teens he counseled were also found in computer files marked as "Yaaaas" and mixed along work-related files labeled "Homilies and Reflections" and "Psalm Bible Studies."
McWilliams pleaded guilty last November to multiple child sex abuse and pornography charges, and at his sentencing a week later announced his intention to "resign" from the priesthood. Instead, Pope Francis laicized him at the request of the Diocese of Cleveland, permanently removing him from the Roman Catholic clergy.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Visit their website for more information.
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