The mother of a 17-year-old girl who was groped by a Philadelphia priest said the Catholic Church has “abandoned” the family by ostracizing them since coming forward and by transferring the abuser after an earlier incident, enabling the attack on the teen in the first place.
Rev. Kevin Lonergan was charged with rubbing his body against the young girl and sending her around 20 sexually explicit pictures and videos. He pleaded guilty to indecent assault late last year. The Allentown Diocese priest was recently sentenced to the maximum allowable state prison term, just two years, and ordered to register as a sex offender for 15 years.
At the sentencing hearing, Lehigh County Judge Maria L. Dantos asked the victim’s father if he would be surprised to learn that Lonergan “was transferred here in 2016 after a similar incident.” Dantos expressed disbelief that this practice was still continuing.
While the prior allegation did not lead to Lonergan’s arrest and was previously revealed in a 2018 news release and letter to parishioners, the judge still had strong words for the Catholic Church, noting that the practice of moving troublesome priests from one church to another has been condemned since the early 1980s.
“We are still transferring priests that molest children?” she asked, her voice raised. “If he had been sanctioned and fired, this victim would not be a victim.”
The parents described a feeling of abandonment from a Church that used to be at the center of their lives.
“Kevin Lonergan took our most precious gift from God, our daughter, and harmed her in the most sacred, safe place,” her mother said, adding that the family feels ostracized since coming forward.
“The church we so believed in abandoned us,” she said.
Her father told the judge that his deep trust of clergy has been shaken by the crime.
“If you can’t trust the shepherds of the young and faithful, who can you trust?” he asked.
At some point, people who remain in the Catholic Church need to ask themselves how many incidents like these they’re willing to tolerate before they, too, stop trusting the Church. They don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. And there are far too many doubts for there to be any benefits.