A 30-year-old Roman Catholic priest in Allentown has been accused of sending nude texts to a teen girl last year and groping her behind, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin announced Tuesday afternoon.
It’s the latest in a wave of sexual abuse allegations tainting the Catholic Church and casting a shadow over the religious institution.
Father Kevin Lonergan, who most recently served as assistant pastor at the Cathedral of St. Catherine Siena, is charged with one count of indecent assault and one count of corrupting a minor, the DA’s office said. He was arraigned Tuesday and released on $50,000 unsecured bail.
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Lonergan allegedly met the 17-year-old victim before mass in August 2017 at Allentown’s St. Francis Assisi Church. Shortly after meeting her, Lonergan got the teen’s number from another church member, Martin said.
The two communicated via SnapChat several times between December 2017 and January 2018, according to the DA’s investigation. Some of those messages included nude photos of the priest, Martin said.
Then, in February 2018, Lonergan hugged the victim and grabbed her buttocks when she tried to pull away, according to the DA’s office.
The victim remained silent for several months after the assault, but she eventually came forward to officials at her high school. They reported the incident to the Archdiocese of Allentown, which banned Lonergan from ministry in June.
“Bishop [Alfred] 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 the investigation,” Martin said.
The arrest of Lonergan, who lives with his parents in Pottsville, adds to an already lengthy list of priests who have been accused of sexually assaulting minors. Last week, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a sweeping report that documented decades of abuse and subsequent cover-ups by clergy members across six dioceses in the state.
The charges against Lonergan were not a result of the landmark grand jury investigation but stemmed from a complaint filed in June, after the grand jury had finished its work, authorities said.
Pope Francis condemned those so-called “predator priests” and apologized for the Catholic Church’s sluggish response to the allegations.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly state where Lonergan lives.