Suburbs

Former Villanova University Campus Minister Tim O’Connell Pleads Guilty in Child Porn Case

The 52-year-old Drexel Hill resident, who entered the plea on the day his trial was to begin, faces up to 10 years in federal prison.


villanova child porn tim oconnell

Former Villanova campus minister Timothy O’Connell (Image via Facebook)

On Tuesday, former Villanova University campus minister Tim O’Connell pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of child pornography on the day that a trial was to begin in the case against him.

The 52-year-old Drexel Hill resident was arrested after the FBI raided his home last July, as we first reported in 2018.

“Villanova University is appalled and horrified by these allegations,” a spokesperson for Villanova told Philly Mag last year, adding that the school had suspended O’Connell, who was Villanova University’s campus minister for Latino outreach.

Villanova University emphasized that O’Connell was not a priest but was, instead, a lay person. (A Villanova University spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for a new comment in light of O’Connell’s guilty plea.)

According to court documents, O’Connell received sexually explicit photos of children as young as two from another man, and he replied to those images with comments like “she is cute,” “very hot,” “very nice,” and “get me hard.” The crime occurred while he was employed by Villanova University.

When the FBI interviewed O’Connell, he admitted to looking at child pornography on the internet, and he told investigators that he was sexually attracted to a third-grade girl with whom he was acquainted, according to the criminal complaint filed in the case.

“Child exploitation is a pervasive problem that demands a sustained, aggressive response,” said United States Attorney William McSwain in a statement on Tuesday. “The allegations in this case are particularly disturbing due to the defendant’s history as a spiritual leader in a position of community trust at Villanova. We stand ready with our federal and local partners to identify and prosecute those who would prey upon minor children.”

Prior to his time at Villanova University, O’Connell worked in the Hispanic ministry of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“When first confronted by members of law enforcement, he immediately acknowledged the conduct and has repeatedly expressed overwhelming remorse,” says O’Connell’s attorney, Heather Mattes. “His life of service at Villanova and elsewhere focused on helping others, especially the less fortunate. Mr. O’Connell neither took advantage of his position at the university nor created opportunities to harm minors there. He is participating in rehabilitative programs and teaching English while incarcerated.”

O’Connell faces up to 10 years in federal prison. A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.