A retired Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, priest charged with sexually abusing a then 10-year-old boy has entered a guilty plea, Pennsylvania Attorney Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday.
Rev. John Sweeney, of the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, was charged last year for the abuse while he was the pastor of St. Margaret Mary in Lower Burrell. The boy was in the fourth grade at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School during the 1991-92 school year.
Investigators said the boy was sent to Sweeney for discipline because he had been disruptive on a school bus.
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The victim, identified as Josh, is now in his 30s and serves in the U.S. Coast Guard. He spoke during Tuesday’s news conference announcing the guilty plea.
Josh said he felt inspired to come forward about his abuse after watching the movie "Spotlight."
“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,” Shapiro said.
Sweeney pleaded guilty to one count of indecent assault at a hearing in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court.
“I understand it’s hard for someone of faith to imagine that a trusted leader could have done something so despicable. But today there is no doubt, John Sweeney is accepting full responsibility and admitting what he did,” Shapiro said.
Sweeney continued to serve as a priest for about 16 years after the abuse.
During his time as a priest with the Diocese of Greensburg, Sweeney was assigned to the following parishes:
- Holy Family Church, Latrobe (starting June 24, 1970)
- Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, Greensburg (starting Aug. 8, 1975)
- St. Hedwig Church, Smock (starting May 22, 1980)
- St. Mary, Freeport (starting Feb. 16, 1982)
- St. Margaret Mary, Lower Burrell (starting Aug. 6, 1985)
- St. James Parish, Apollo (starting July 7, 1998)
- Holy Family Parish, West Newton (starting Oct. 30, 2008)
Sweeney was indicted last year by a statewide investigating grand jury probing the sexual abuse of children by priests and clergy in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, including the Diocese of Greensburg.
“The order from the Supreme Court just days ago is a victory for survivors but our work is not yet done. We will continue to fight for justice for each and every victim whether in our schools doctors offices, Catholic Church, wherever we find them," Shapiro said.
Shapiro asks that anyone with information about sexual abuse by Sweeney or any priest to contact the Office of Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1-888-538-8541.