The state of Pennsylvania is planning the release of a report exposing about 300 priests who have sexually abused children, and on Tuesday, prosecutors offered a taste of what’s to come.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has been spearheading the efforts to prosecute predator priests, announced the guilty plea by Father John Sweeney of the Greensburg Diocese. He admitted to molesting a fourth-grade boy, and has now become a symbol of the ongoing investigation into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.
“… (T)oday there is no doubt, John Sweeney is accepting full responsibility and admitting what he did,” Shapiro said. Sweeney’s victim, whose first name is Josh, stood to the right of Shapiro, flanked by deputy attorney generals.
Sweeney, 75, is the first priest convicted as a result of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, which recently concluded an investigation into sexually abusive priests and clergy in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses, including the Diocese of Greensburg.
The report, which remains under seal, is expected to be the most comprehensive look at clergy sex abuse in the world. The report identifies by name more than 300 priests who face credible accusations of child sex crimes.
It seems like Sweeney’s admission is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the investigative report, which Catholic officials in the state have fought tooth-and-nail to stop, but what he did was horrific in itself.
According to the grand jury’s presentment, while in fourth grade at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School during the 1991-92 school year, the victim, Josh, was sent to Sweeney for discipline because he had been disruptive on a school bus. The grand jury found that Sweeney used his authority and position as a priest, under the guise of a disciplinarian, to force the victim to perform oral sex on Sweeney in a conference room next to Sweeney’s office inside the St. Margaret Mary Parish.
Sweeney continued in ministry as a priest for approximately 16 years after abusing the victim. Sweeney was assigned to various parishes during his tenure as a priest in the diocese.
Shapiro stood next to Sweeney’s victim, a man in his thirties who was identified by his first name only. Shapiro praised Josh, who serves in the U.S. Coast Guard, for his bravery.
“Josh is a hero to come forward to tell his difficult truth about Sweeney because of his concern that other children could be harmed if Sweeney were not held accountable,” Shapiro said. “Once a victim finds the courage to come forward, law enforcement should take action. For his crime, Sweeney has pleaded guilty before the court in Westmoreland, and before the citizens of the Commonwealth, to the sexual abuse of a child.”
I couldn’t agree with Shapiro more. It’s incredibly difficult for people to come forward about sexual abuse like this, and even if Sweeney was shuffled from church to church (as is so often the case), these stories (and the upcoming report) will go a long way to preventing others from becoming victims themselves.
If the other 300 or so cases are even close to as bad as this one, its release could make history.
There’s reason to believe the priests’ names will be redacted in the released report, but some church leaders (who are aware of the priests implicated in the report) are being proactive and releasing the names themselves.
(Image via Shutterstock)