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Teen sues Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, claims it failed to protect him from abuse

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Posted at 10:43 PM, Mar 29, 2022

CLEVELAND — A Northeast Ohio teenager has filed a civil lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland that alleges the diocese failed to protect him against his abuser: former priest Robert McWilliams.

A federal judge sentenced McWilliams to a life sentence last November for numerous child pornography, child exploitation and child sex trafficking charges.

McWilliams took his own life in prison in February.

Konrad Kircher is the plaintiff’s attorney. He said his client filed the lawsuit to hold the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland accountable for McWilliams’ actions.

“McWilliams was convicted, and the federal judge hammered him pretty good with a sentence that made my client feel somewhat validated, but then McWilliams committed suicide in prison, which was a cowardly act that deprived my client of that justice. McWilliams refused to even serve his sentence and now a civil lawsuit is my client's opportunity to hold the diocese accountable for what has happened to him,” said Kircher.

The lawsuit was filed a few weeks ago

Kircher’s client is 19-years-old now, but Kircher said the abuse began when his client was 14-years-old.

McWilliams was working at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Strongsville during the time of the abuse. Kircher said it went on for about 2 years.

“My client was contacted by the priest through a social media website, and my client was only 14-years old at the time, and the priest manipulated him into sexual conduct,” he said. “The priest called himself Mike, which was a false name, and my client did not know he was a priest until after he was contacted by the investigators.”

The lawsuit alleges that the diocese knew McWilliams presented a threat of harm to children and therefore failed to protect him from foreseeable harm.

“McWilliams was a seminarian of Defendant Diocese from 2014 through 2017. During this time, the Diocese obtained information which revealed that McWilliams was an immature, emotionally unstable individual who, in the context of the history of clergy sexual abuse of children, presented a threat of harm to children,” the lawsuit said.

Kircher said McWilliams used church-owned computers and technology to seek out and perpetuate his crimes.

“He was ordained in 2007, almost right away, he used the church internet, the church laptop, church equipment to access forbidden sites,” said Kircher. “The diocese in the Catholic Church needs to put some kind of parental controls on the use of their internet sites and that's what should have been done here.”

Kircher said his plaintiff just wants to move forward with his healing process.

“He’s had a few rough years, very rough years, and he is by no means healed. He is progressing. “

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has 60 days to respond to the civil lawsuit.

A spokesperson from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland sent News 5 this statement:

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has received and is reviewing the lawsuit brought on behalf of an unnamed plaintiff. While we can offer no comment on that pending matter, the Diocese continues to offer prayers for all those impacted by the reprehensible crimes of Robert McWilliams. The Diocese has been a leader in the protection of children for the past two decades and remains committed to creating safe environments for children in the parishes and schools throughout the Diocese.