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Former priest in prison for sex abuse dies by suicide

John Burger - published on 02/05/22

Robert McWilliams pleaded guilty last July to federal charges of sex trafficking, child pornography and exploiting children.

Robert D. McWilliams, a former priest in the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, who was serving a life sentence for sexual abuse, died early Friday at the age of 41.

According to Fox 8, the Union County Coroner’s Office in Ohio said that McWilliams died by suicide. The Federal Bureau of Prisons said that McWilliams, who had arrived Monday at the U.S. Penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, was found unresponsive just before 1 a.m.

McWilliams pleaded guilty last July to federal charges of sex trafficking, child pornography and exploiting children. At the time, a report by the Pillar outlined the emotional abuse that McWilliams, who was ordained in 2017, exercised on a teenage boy in Cleveland. The article noted that he defended the secrecy of some of what transpired between him and the boy by citing “the seal of confession.” 

According to the report, McWilliams used fake cell phone numbers to pretend to be a female classmate of the boy’s, and little by little manipulated him to send nude photos of himself to that number. McWilliams, making up a second fake number and pretending to be the girl’s best friend, then threatened to expose the boy’s actions to his parents, manipulating him to continue, even though the boy wanted to stop. 

The priest was also accused of using the hookup app Grindr to arrange sexual encounters with underage boys.

Friday morning, McWilliams was taken to Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he died on February 4 at 2:18 a.m. An autopsy will be performed Saturday.

WKYC, which first reported on McWilliams’ death, said the Diocese of Cleveland released a statement saying, “We learned this afternoon of the passing of Robert McWilliams. We place this and all difficult situations in the hands of God. We will continue to pray for those hurt by his actions. May God be the source of their healing.”

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