'We were totally ignored': Attorney for abuse survivor speaks out on lawsuit

Author: Sara Shookman

Published: 5:53 PM EDT March 30, 2022

Updated: 9:36 PM EDT March 30, 2022

CLEVELAND — They won't share his name, but attorneys for the Medina man filing a lawsuit as John Doe say he's sharing his story now in hopes of healing. "My client was 14 years old and was on a social media website when an individual who claimed his name was 'Mike' contacted him and began grooming him and soliciting him for sexual favors," Konrad Kircher, a Lebanon lawyer, told 3News. "Mike," Kircher says, turned out to be a young Catholic priest named Robert McWilliams, using his position of power to take advantage of teenage boys like his client. "They met in person on at least three occasions," Kircher added, "and the priest paid my client for sexual conduct at 15 years old." Kircher says the young man didn't go to police. "He felt ashamed," Kircher contended. "He felt guilty, and that's not unusual for a child sex abuse survivor." But the attorney says his client was contacted by criminal investigators who found communications between him and McWilliams in equipment seized during his arrest in December 2019 at St. Joseph's School in Strongsville. The paid incident made up the first of eight federal counts McWilliams admitted to last July. The total number of his victims remains unclear. McWilliams was sentenced to life in prison in November for charges related to sex trafficking, child pornography, and exploiting children. In early February, he died by suicide at a federal prison in Pennsylvania. That's why Kircher says the 19-year-old victim is coming forward now. "He was shocked and frustrated by the suicide," the lawyer said. "That essentially ripped some justice from my client. He had tried to put this behind him. … My client was happy that McWilliams was going to have to serve many, many years in prison, but McWilliams was too much of a coward to do that." The young man is now suing the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, St. Joseph Catholic Church, and current Bishop Edward Malesic for $1 million each in damages. Kircher says John Doe also wants to prevent further crimes against children. "He has had a few very rough years, many mental health challenges," Kircher added. "There's no reason that this young, immature priest was able to access all these forbidden websites and transmit child pornography on church property with church equipment. There should be controls, especially with the history of the Catholic Church and of clergy's sexual abuse of minors."

The Diocese says it's reviewing the pending lawsuit, sharing this statement with WKYC: "The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has received and is reviewing the lawsuit brought on behalf of an unnamed plaintiff. While we can offer no comment on that pending matter, the Diocese continues to offer prayers for all those impacted by the reprehensible crimes of Robert McWilliams. The Diocese has been a leader in the protection of children for the past two decades and remains committed to creating safe environments for children in the parishes and schools throughout the Diocese."

But Kircher says that has not been his client's experience. "We reached out to the diocese before filing the lawsuit," he claimed. "We asked them to help with our client's healing, and we were totally ignored. Didn't even get the courtesy of an acknowledgement. So, we are proceeding with the lawsuit, and we will get their attention this way." Some of the victims who testified in the criminal case were members of McWilliams' congregations and have also called for changes to stop abuse. This is the first civil lawsuit to stem from the case. 3News also reached out to St. Joseph, which referred back to the diocese's remarks. The office of Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez — who was Bishop of Cleveland at the time of the allegations made in the lawsuit — declined to comment.