The dismissal comes after Robert McWilliams, 41, a former seminarian at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Newbury Township, was sentenced in November by Northern District of Ohio Judge Sara Lioi. McWilliams previously pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor, three counts of sexual exploitation of a child, and 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.
McWilliams’ dismissal from the clerical state comes directly from Pope Francis and there is no possible appeal, according to a news release from the Diocese of Cleveland. His defrocking means that he is permanently no longer able to function anywhere as a priest. The diocese placed McWilliams on administrative leave following his December 2019 arrest. Records from the diocese show McWilliams was ordained in May 2017.
“We continue, as a family of faith, to offer prayers and support for his victims and for all those impacted by his reprehensible actions,” the Diocese of Cleveland said in a statement. “We ask our loving Father to heal any and all wounds they have suffered.”
McWilliams was arrested Dec. 5, 2019, at St. Joseph in Strongsville after the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force raided his office and living space. He was initially facing criminal charges in Cuyahoga and Geauga counties, but prosecutors in both counties dropped their cases after a federal complaint was filed Feb. 21, 2020.
From 2017-2019, McWilliams engaged in sexually explicit conduct involving minors, investigators say. McWilliams posed as women to entice the minor male victims to send him sexually explicit photographs and videos, sometimes threatening to expose embarrassing information. He at times threatened to send those photos to family and friends if the minor victim did not send additional photos and videos, investigators say. McWilliams followed through on this threat by sending the mothers sexually explicit photographs he received from minor male victims.
He also used a social networking website to make contact with a minor male victim for the “purpose of engaging in commercial sex.” McWilliams allegedly met the victim on multiple occasions and, in exchange for sex, paid the victim for each act.
McWilliams was also in possession of, received or distributed approximately 1,700 images and videos of child pornography and approximately 150 files of child pornography in a cloud storage account, according to investigators.
The families of three of McWilliams’ victims are members of St. Helen’s parish. He came to the attention of the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office in October 2019, after two families from the parish filed a report detailing how their sons were extorted online for sexually explicit images of themselves, according to the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum.
Though McWilliams is unable to appeal his defrocking, he is able to appeal his life sentence. He filed his notice of appeal Dec. 22 to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, court records show.
Those with information regarding sexual abuse by clergy in the Diocese of Cleveland can reach the diocese’s confidential response line at 216-334-2999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.