Parishioners React to Charges Against Priest

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CLEVELAND -- Parishioners at one Cleveland Catholic church were left with much disbelief and concern for their pastor after he was arrested on serious sex charges.

James McGonegal usually celebrates mass at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church, but he didn't Sunday.

Rev. McGonegal, 68, was arrested Friday afternoon at Edgewater Park. He is accused of soliciting sex from a man he didn't know was a park ranger.

"I didn't believe it. I really didn't believe it. It was very hard to believe," said Sal Valentino, a parishioner.

According to the police report, the plain-clothed ranger and Rev. McGonegal spoke. When asked what he was doing in the park, the priest reportedly responding "cruising," meaning he was looking for sex.

The ranger stated that Rev. McGonegal offered to pay him $50 for the sex act.

"He's human. I don't agree with it. I think it's very embarrassing to us, but he is a human person. I guess he has weaknesses like everyone else," Valentino added.

The ranger said he saw Rev. McGonegal expose himself and was pleasuring himself where others in the park could see. The ranger also found three sex devices in the priest's vehicle.

"I don't feel it's my place to judge or punish or forgive. That's something that he has to work out with God and the courts," Larissa Thomas of Cleveland said.

The ranger also stated that twice while under arrest, Rev. McGonegal admitted that he is HIV positive. That makes the soliciting charge a felony.

Parishioner Juliann Torres was quite saddened for the priest.

"I just hope everybody prays for him and gives him the support and the help, you know, that he needs. Because he will be missed," she said.

Rev. McGonegal will be arraigned Tuesday.

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