GREENSBURG (KDKA) – A retired priest of the Diocese of Greensburg has pleaded guilty in a child sexual assault case.
John Thomas Sweeney, a former priest, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of indecent assault and could spend up to five years in prison.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the guilty plea during a press conference Tuesday morning. The victim in the case, identified only as Josh, was also present for the announcement.
"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," Attorney General 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."
According to a criminal complaint, sometime between Sept. 1991 and June 1992, the victim was sent to see Sweeney after he misbehaved on a school bus. The victim was 10-years-old at the time, in the fourth grade at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School.
The victim said he was taken to a dark conference room near Sweeney's office where Sweeney forced him to perform oral sex on him, and said if he didn't do it, he would get in "trouble."
"In his guilty plea today, Sweeney admitted and acknowledged to committing this crime inside the confines of the church. There can be no doubt that Father Sweeney is a predator priest. The assault that I have just described is unimaginable to most of us and yet there is someone with us here today that doesn't need to imagine, he lived it. And, he somehow found the strength to be here to speak truth to power. Today, he is finally getting justice," Shapiro said.
The victim said after the sexual assault took place, Sweeney's secretary brought the victim milk and cookies.
"I just hope more people come forward please have the courage to come forward. You have nothing to lose, you will be a victim until the day you come forward. The day you come out you will be a victor. We are victorious today," Josh said.
The criminal complaint reports that the grand jury learned that the victim was a vulnerable child, whose parents sent him to St. Margaret Mary in the hopes he would get a better education.
In calling for more victims to come forward, Shapiro also listed the following parishes as places were Sweeney served as a priest:
- Associate Pastor Holy Family Church, Latrobe - June 24, 1970
- Associate Pastor Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, Greensburg - Aug. 8, 1975
- Pastor St. Hedwig Church, Smock - May 22, 1980
- Pastor St. Mary, Freeport - Feb. 16, 1982
- Pastor St. Margaret Mary, Lower Burrell - Aug. 6, 1985
- Pastor St. James Parish, Apollo - July 7, 1998
- Pastor Holy Family Parish, West Newton - Oct. 30, 2008
"If anyone is aware of other incidents involving this man, or if you yourself were a victim, I urge you to come forward," Attorney General Shapiro said. "As we've shown today, we can and we will hold them accountable."
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