A priest with the Cleveland Catholic Diocese was sentenced to life in prison this Tuesday by a federal judge after being convicted for sex trafficking and child pornography, WTRF reports.
Robert McWilliams targeted his victims, who were minors, from 2017 up until 2019 when he was arrested. Many of his victims were connected to the churches where he was employed.
Two families from St. Helen’s filed a report in Geauga County in 2019 saying their minor sons were being extorted online.
Geauga County investigators tracked messages from the children back to McWilliams, documents state.
When members of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) executed a search warrant at McWilliams’ St. Joseph living quarters, court documents show they found sexually explicit images of the victims who came forward, videos of children as young as toddlers being raped, and evidence that McWilliams also paid teenage boys for sex.
Prosecutors say McWilliams lured male victims by posing as a teenage girl online, then blackmailed the victims and threatened to expose them unless they continued to send more nude photos and videos.
In a letter to the court, McWilliams claimed he was remorseful for his actions, and asked for a sentence under 20 years so he could be close to his mother.
“For the past 23 months, I have been ashamed and sorrowful for my actions and my sins,” he said. “Not a day goes by when I don’t regret the way I treated you and how you feel. All 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.”
In a statement released Tuesday after the sentencing, the Cleveland Diocese offered prayers “for all those impacted by his reprehensible actions and ask our loving Father to heal any and all wounds they have suffered.”
“…let us offer our support and thanks to all the good priests of the Diocese of Cleveland who faithfully live out their promises each day in service to God’s people. For its part, the diocese continues to actively pursue the removal of McWilliams from the clerical state.”