SNAP applauds the life sentence given to a Catholic priest in Ohio

Fr. Robert McWilliams was sentenced to life in prison on November 9, 2021, after being convicted of multiple sex crimes that involve children. The clergyman was arrested on Dec. 5, 2019, at St. Joseph in Strongsville, Ohio, where he was working at the time. Fr. McWilliam was also affiliated with St. Helen’s in Geauga County. The priest pleaded guilty in July to juvenile sex trafficking, as well as the production and distribution of sexually explicit images of minors. Fr. McWilliams was labeled by prosecutors as a "triple threat" and "sociopath.

In their sentencing memorandum, federal officials noted that the cleric was "a consumer of child pornography and an extortionist who violated the sacrament of confession to obtain the information he later used, under aliases, to seek the production of sexually explicit material from boys he was 'counseling.'” Additionally, prosecutors said Fr. McWilliams pretended to be a female on social media sites to contact underage male victims he knew from his parishes in Strongsville and Newbury Township.

In our view, the judge quite correctly sent a very strong message to predators and those contemplating similar heinous crimes against children with this sentence. We applaud the courage of every victim, witness, or whistleblower who helped police and prosecutors see to it that Fr. McWilliams is away from juveniles for a very long time.

Sadly, Fr. McWilliams' victims too will have a life sentence. They are the ones who truly need both sympathy and care. We understand the pain and confusion the victims may be experiencing, and we encourage them to seek help.

The young age of this convicted priest demonstrates clearly that sex abuse in the Church is 'not in the past.' Church officials wish us to believe otherwise. Over the past two years, law enforcement in at least 30 states has arrested or started criminal proceedings against living, working clerics, or staffers implicated in sex abuse, according to SNAP’s internal monitoring. This means that parishioners and the public must continue to be vigilant to protect children in their communities.

Organizations such as ours help survivors, protect the vulnerable, and seek truth and justice. Through our work, we hope to help religious institutions find true "zero tolerance" for abusive clergy.

CONTACT: Michael McDonnell, Communication Manager (267-261-0578, [email protected]  Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009, [email protected]), Judy Block Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate (314-974-5003, [email protected])(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is

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