Father Robert McWilliams
Father Robert McWilliams was sentenced by a U.S. district court in Akron on Tuesday in front of an overflowing crowd that included the family members of his three victims. The 41-year-old McWilliams pleaded guilty to eight counts involving the exploitation of children and the distribution of pornographic material.
The diocese of Cleveland released a statement in which it requested prayers for all those who had been harmed by the defendant’s “reprehensible actions,” adding that it “continues to actively pursue the removal of McWilliams from the clerical state.”
The diocese also promoted support for all the “good priests of the diocese of Cleveland who faithfully live out their promises each day in service to God’s people.”
United States District Judge Sara Lioi said the public needed to be safeguarded from McWilliams because he consistently preyed on teenagers who came to him for spiritual direction and guidance. McWilliams was ordained as a priest in May 2017 and served as a parochial vicar at his church’s elementary school in Strongsville, Ohio, where he was arrested in December of last year.
One of the families that had a child abused by McWilliams has managed to hold steadfast to their faith amongst all of this evil. In a recent interview with The Pillar, the mother of the abused child said:
The Church didn’t directly hurt me or hurt us. I don’t know how to explain it, but, you know, McWilliams was … a son of the Church. So it looks like the Church hurt me, hurt us, hurt my family, hurt my kids, but … through this whole suffering, I’ve had to separate — there’s a difference between the bad men of the Church and what the Church really is, which is the mystical Body of Christ … I am upset with the bad people in the Church … But the Church itself is the mystical Body of Christ. And it’s where adoration and confession are … it’s because of the Church that we are still standing.
As Church Militant reported in January of 2020, “Borromeo Seminary, Cleveland’s college seminary that helped form McWilliams, has issues with its formation program … . Borromeo does have a history of accommodating gay seminarians and those with unresolved sexual issues.”
The seminary’s handbook for its seminarians states regarding chastity: “Each person must come to terms with his own sexual drives and sexual orientation.”
It discusses “heterosexual or homosexual orientation” of seminarians, saying, “Both persons are capable of making and keeping a commitment to celibacy. But in either case, the expectations are the same: the ability to refrain from genital sexual experiences.”
The literature also encourages seminarians to “not nurture homophobia within the community.”
Prosecutors said McWilliams possessed tens of thousands of pornographic images on his computer. To make matters worse, many of these images were of very young children.
Furthermore, prosecutors claim McWilliams would coerce adolescent boys into providing him with these sexually graphic pictures. The prosecutors also claim that he also paid two underage boys to perform sex acts on him.
While being sentenced, McWilliams read a letter he claimed to have written to one of his many victims, in which he says he is “ashamed and sorrowful for my actions and sins.”
He also stated, “[A]ll I have to offer you now are my prayers and my apology. I pray your faith in God and in the Church will be healed. It doesn’t minimize [the damage], but I trust God will heal you. To all those who have lost their faith at all, please note this was not the Church or the priesthood; this was my fault, my sins.”