Crime

Beloved Priest Facing Decades In Prison After Grim Discovery From His Past Is Revealed

A Pennsylvania Catholic priest has been arrested and charged with the sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy during the 1990s. John T. Sweeney will head to trial over the felony.

Sweeney, a pastor in Pennsylvania since 1970, was arrested after his victim came forward, detailing the assault that occurred in the early 1990s, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Sweeney was charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a minor, a felony. He was released on $50,000 bond on the condition that he remain away from children.

The alleged abuse occurred during the 1991-92 school year, and the student Sweeney assaulted has kept the abuse a secret until recently. The victim noted that he felt inspired to come forward after watching the movie "Spotlight," which detailed the investigation into Boston-area priests who were involved in sexual assault cases.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the victim is "a hero" for exposing the abuse suffered at the hands of Sweeney. Sweeney was serving as a pastor at a local Catholic church at the time of the arrest.

Penn Live reports that Sweeney was in regular contact with children as a part of the church, and the victim feared Sweeney may have been abusing other children, as well.

"It often takes victims of child sexual abuse years or decades to come forward, because they struggle with shame, confusion, or fear," Shapiro said. "But once a victim finds the courage to come forward, law enforcement should take action."

Shapiro also noted that children are often targets of sexual predators because of their vulnerability, particularly if the abuser is in a position of authority.

It was discovered that Sweeney manipulated the victim, then a fourth-grader, by using his position of power at the school, forcing the boy to perform oral sex on him in a conference room next to his office. Afterward, Sweeney's receptionist brought the boy milk and cookies.

Sexual abuse scandals have rocked the Catholic church, as several priests have been arrested, charged, and convicted of sexual crimes. A grand jury report from 2011 found widespread assault by priests and other religious officials in the church. Several priests were removed from their positions as a result of the findings.

"It is time to reform these arbitrary timeframes and to seek justice for our children," Shapiro said, bemoaning the failed attempts to change the statute of limitations on crimes against children. "This victim, all victims, are entitled to justice."

Sources: Pittsburgh Post-GazettePenn Live / Photo credit: AP via Penn LiveAntonella Crescimbeni/Post-GazetteAndy Smith/Flickr

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