Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin announced the first charges brought against a Pennsylvania priest after the release of a grand jury sex abuse report.
Martin announced Tuesday afternoon that Rev. Kevin Lonergan is the first to be charged with crimes of sexual misconduct with children. Lonergan has been charged with one count of corruption of minors, which is a 3rd degree felony, and one count of indecent assault, which is a 2nd degree misdemeanor. (RELATED: Pope Addresses Sex Abuse Scandals, Urges Lay People To Help Uproot Culture Of Cover-Ups)
“Lonergan has been prohibited from the exercise of public ministry since June 7 of this year by decree of the Most Rev. Alfred A Schlert, doctor of divinity, Bishop of Allentown,” Martin said at a Tuesday press conference. “In June it was reported by attorneys of the diocese to me that Lonergan, while serving as a priest, had inappropriate sexual contact with a 17 year old female who was identified in court papers as Jane Doe.”
The allegations against Lonergan are not connected to the recent grand jury report, as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania received the accusations against Lonergan after the grand jury had completed its work. Tensions between the church and the public have risen ever since the report’s release, however, with many people inside and outside of the church calling for clergy to be held to greater accountability and some even demanding a purge of sexually active or gay priests. In one case, that tension boiled over into an assault of a priest who was never implicated in any case of abuse.
Lonergan’s prosecution may be a sign of greater accountability for the Diocese of Allentown in action.
“I also wish to advise the public and the parishioners of the Diocese that Bishop Schlert wanted to act very quickly and transparently to report this and to inform the public of Lonergan’s removal from active ministry, but he held off doing so at my request in order not to compromise our investigation,” Martin added, according to WFMZ.
Lonergan allegedly had contact with a girl at Central Catholic High School in 2017. Martin said that the two exchanged phone numbers and claimed that Lonergan sent her sexually explicit Snapchat messages. The girl also alleged that Martin hugged her in 2018 and that she could “feel that Lonergan had an erection” and that he proceeded to “pull her towards him and then grabbed her buttocks over her clothes.”
The girl reported the alleged abuse to a priest who then reported it to diocesan officials. Diocesan officials immediately contacted the district attorney’s office, after which Schlert removed Lonergan from ministry.
Lonergan will be arraigned and booked Tuesday.
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