Retired priest faces judge on child sex abuse charges

LEECHBURG, Pa. — Channel 11 was there as a retired Westmoreland County priest faced a judge on accusations that he sexually abused a 10-year-old boy.

John T. Sweeney, 74, is accused of abuse in 1991 and 1992 while he was the pastor at St. Margaret Mary in Lower Burrell. He left the Leechburg Magistrate's Office Wednesday without saying a word to Channel 11.

The boy is now 35 years old, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro said when charges were filed in July, they wanted to file more charges but couldn't because of his age.

Sweeney's defense attorney told Channel 11 the statute of limitations for this case has passed, therefore the charge should be dropped. But prosecutors said, that's not the case.

"Father Sweeney maintains that he did not violate any laws," defense attorney Francis Murrman said. "This case, it came down to the victim's 18th birthday. If the victim was 18 on or before August 27, 2002, he had until his 30th birthday to file the charges. These charges were filed when he was 35, five years over the statute."

"We are confident that we filed under the statute of limitations that is it not barred by time," said Daniel Dye, senior deputy attorney general. "As a matter of fact, it's the only reason we brought one charge. It was the only charge that survived the statute of limitations."

Prosecutors said the statute of limitations will not stop the case from moving forward.

In court Wednesday, testimony from the alleged victim was released. He testified that while in the 4th grade, he was, "escorted to a conference room near Sweeney's office" and thought he was "in serious trouble."

It was there where he alleges he was sexually assaulted and "Sweeney told him that if he didn't comply he would get in trouble and that he was not to tell anyone what had occurred."

His next hearing will be in eight weeks.