CLEVELAND — A priest from Strongsville who was indicted in 2020 on a slew of sex charges involving minors has pleaded guilty in federal court.
Robert D. McWilliams pleaded guilty to two counts of sex trafficking of a minor, three counts of sexual exploitation of a child, one count each of transportation of child pornography, receipt and distribution of visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct and possession of child pornography, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Between 2017 and 2019, McWilliams "solicited sexually explicit images of minors online and engaged in sexual acts with minor victims in exchange for alcohol and other things of value," the attorney's office said.
According to the authorities, McWilliams posed as a female on social media in order to entice minor males into sending sexually explicit photographs and videos, sometimes threatening to expose embarrassing information he already knew about the victims if they did not send him photos.
McWilliams was already familiar with the victims since he served as a priest at the local churches that the children and their families attended. McWilliams followed through on his threats "by sending the mothers sexually explicit photographs he received from minor male victims," authorities said when he was indicted.
"McWilliams used the social networking website Grindr.com to make contact with a minor victim for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex. McWilliams then enticed this minor victim to identify another minor victim with whom McWilliams could engage in commercial sex acts. McWilliams met the victims on multiple occasions for the purpose of engaging in sex acts in exchange for money and alcohol," the attorney's office said.
After McWilliams was arrested, authorities said that they found images and videos of child pornography in his possession. Additionally, around 150 files of child pornography were found in a Dropbox account.
McWilliams is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 9 and faces up to life in prison.
The church responds
The Catholic Dioceses of Cleveland issued a statement following McWilliams guilty plea.
"The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland was made aware this afternoon of the guilty plea of Rev. Robert McWilliams, former parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Strongsville. We are grateful to the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors for diligently seeking justice in this matter. Furthermore, with the resolution of the criminal charges against McWilliams, the Diocese is now able to pursue the removal of McWilliams from the clerical state. Let us pray for healing for all those who have experienced sexual abuse.
The Diocese of Cleveland is committed to creating a safe environment for children and fostering healing for those who have experienced abuse. Anyone with information or simply in need of help can reach the diocesan confidential response line by phone at 216-334-2999 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org."
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