Former Priest Arrested for Sexual Abuse in Westmoreland County
July 24, 2017
A former Westmoreland County priest is charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child from an incident more than 25 years ago.
John Thomas Sweeney, 74, was arraigned Monday afternoon at the magistrate’s office in Allegheny Township.
The allegations stem from the St. Margaret Mary School in Lower Burrell.
During a news conference Monday afternoon, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro detailed the alleged sexual abuse by Sweeney against a fourth-grade boy in 1991.
While few details about the larger investigation were given, the attorney general emphasized it is still open and ongoing.
During the news conference, Shapiro made it a point to show a list of the churches where Sweeney worked during his career.
He retired from Holy Family Parish in West Newton in December, but it's unclear if that was linked to this investigation.
Shapiro says he wanted to charge Sweeney with more than just the one count of sex assault, but the statute of limitations on the other charges expired.
If found guilty, Sweeney faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
FIVE THINGS WE KNOW NOW ABOUT THE CASE
The victim is now a member of the United States Coast Guard.
"He was motivated to come forward and tell the difficult truth about Sweeney because of his concern that this could have happened to other children and other children could be harmed if Sweeney was not held accountable,” Shapiro said. "This courageous young man found his voice and brought that voice before the grand jury."
At this point, Sweeney is the only priest charged in this case and it's unclear if there are more possible victims of Sweeney's.
Shapiro is asking any other victims of sex abuse at the hands of Sweeney or another priest to come forward.
Shapiro said the arrest and subsequent charges are the result of a broader investigation into sexual abuse by priests that began last September. This is the first charge to come since the investigation began.
"They might not see justice for themselves because of their statute of limitations, but it helps them heal because they see somebody is actually taking action," said Frances Samber with the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.