A Catholic priest in Pennsylvania has been charged with indecent assault and corruption of a minor involving a 17-year-old girl, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said Tuesday.
Father Kevin Lonergan, who served at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown, started sending sexual messages to the victim via Snapchat after meeting her at St. Francis of Assisi in Allentown, Martin said in a press conference.
Martin said Lonergan also hugged the girl while he was aroused and grabbed her buttocks, pulling her closer when she tried to pull away.
The victim told an adult at Central High School who contacted the diocese, Martin said. The diocese then told the district attorney’s office of the accusation.
Archdiocese says it ‘removed’ priest
In a statement, the Diocese of Allentown said it learned of the allegation in June and shared it with the district attorney’s office.
“Bishop Alfred Schlert also immediately removed Lonergan from his assignment,” the statement says. “He was forbidden from all priestly ministry pending the results of the investigation.”
The diocese says it delayed making an announcement at the request of prosecutors.
“The Diocese cooperated fully with the law enforcement investigation,” the statement says. “Father Lonergan has retained his own legal counsel, at his own expense.”
CNN is attempting to reach an attorney for Lonergan for comment.
Allegations not part of grand jury report
Pennsylvania priests have been under increased scrutiny after the release of a scathing, 887-page report by a grand jury that said more than 300 “predator priests” in the state have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro called on church leaders to support the report’s recommendations “so that survivors have the opportunity to obtain justice.” He also said his office’s hotline and email accounts have “lit up” with calls and messages from reported abuse survivors since the grand jury report was published.
The grand jury investigated reports of sexual abuse dating back to 1947. And in many cases, the statute of limitations for bringing charges against priests has expired. State lawmakers are now considering whether to remove the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases.
Martin said the case against Lonergan was not related to the grand jury’s findings.