Cleveland priest in prison for child sex crimes takes his own life

Former Cleveland Catholic Diocese priest Robert McWilliams took his own life while serving his sentence for child sex crimes at a Pennsylvania prison.

McWilliams, 41, pleaded guilty in federal court in July to two counts of 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. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons said McWilliams, who was an inmate at Allenwood Federal Prison, was found unresponsive just before 1 a.m. The Union County Coroner’s Office said he died by suicide early Friday morning at Evangelical Community Hospital. No other inmates were injured.

McWilliams had been at Allenwood Federal Prison since Monday.

The diocese said it learned of McWilliams’ death Friday afternoon.

“We place this and all difficult situations in the hands of God. We will continue to pray for the those hurt by his actions. May God be the source of their healing,” the Cleveland Catholic Diocese said in a statement.

McWilliams was a seminarian with St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Newbury Township and Parochial Vicar of Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Strongsville.

According to court documents, McWilliams preyed on minor victims, many connected to churches he was associated with from 2017 until 2019 when he was arrested. Two families from St. Helen’s filed a report in Geauga County saying their minor sons were being extorted online.

When members of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children executed a search warrant at McWilliams’ St. Joseph living quarters, court documents show they found sexually explicit images of the victims who came forward, videos of children as young as toddlers being raped and evidence that McWilliams also paid teenage boys for sex.

Prosecutors said McWilliams lured male victims by posing as a teenage girl online, then blackmailed the victims and threatened to expose them unless they continued to send more nude photos and videos.