ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania — A Catholic priest in Pennsylvania has been sentenced for groping a 17-year-old parishioner and sending her lewd photos and a video.
Father Kevin Lonergan was sentenced Monday to one to two years in prison for indecent assault, The Morning Call reported.
Authorities say Lonergan met the teen at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Allentown, where she and her family worshiped. Lonergan, 31, admitted to rubbing his body against hers in a sexual manner and sending her 20 sexually explicit images and one video.
Lehigh County Judge Maria Dantos revealed during the hearing that it was not the first allegation of this kind against Lonergan.
Matthew Kerr, spokesman for the Diocese of Allentown, said Lonergan was previously the assistant pastor at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church in Palmer Township and was removed during an investigation into what was determined to be an unfounded “concern.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Matthew Falk says the investigation into the earlier allegation against Lonergan stalled when the family and girl refused to cooperate with law enforcement.
Lonergan was restored to ministry and appointed as assistant pastor at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown.
Dantos compared Lonergan’s reassignment to a practice condemned since the 1980s: Relocating a troublesome priest.
“We are still transferring priests that molest children?” Dantos asked. “If he had been sanctioned and fired, this victim would not be a victim.”
Dantos referenced a report during sentencing that described Lonergan’s previous allegation as “hands-on molestation” of a 15-year-old girl.
The Allentown Diocese said in a statement that it’s inaccurate to say it transferred a priest who committed an offense. The diocese said the statement Lonergan was reassigned after Northampton County Children and Youth — a state agency tasked with the protection of children and youth — decided the allegation was unfounded.
“The Diocese took immediate action upon receiving the information on that previous allegation. Father Lonergan was forbidden from ministry, and the Diocese reported the allegation to law enforcement under its Zero Tolerance Policy,” the diocese continued.
“Father Lonergan will not return to ministry. Now that the matter has reached a final civil judgment, the Diocese will submit the case to the Vatican,” the statement said.
Crux staff contributed to this report.
Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.