Three Philadelphia priests, teacher charged with sexually abusing boys
Left to right, from top: Edward Avery, James Brennan, Charles Engelhardt, William Lynn and Bernard Shero were charged in connection with sex abuse against minors.
February 10th, 2011
04:55 PM ET

Three Philadelphia priests, teacher charged with sexually abusing boys

By Sarah Hoye, CNN

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (CNN) - Three Philadelphia priests and a parochial school teacher were charged Thursday with raping and assaulting boys in their care, while a former official with the Philadelphia Archdiocese was accused of allowing the abusive priests to have access to children, the city's district attorney's office said.

CNN Senior Vatican analyst John Allen said the charges against the former church official appeared to be unprecedented and could have national implications.

"This is apparently the first time that a Catholic leader has been charged criminally for the cover-up as opposed to the abuse itself," he said. "It sends a shot across the bow for bishops and other diocesan officials in other parts of the country, who have to wonder now if they've got criminal exposure, too."

Edward Avery, 68, and Charles Engelhardt, 64, were charged with allegedly assaulting a 10-year-old boy at St. Jerome Parish from 1998 to 1999. Bernard Shero, 48, a teacher in the school, is charged with allegedly assaulting the same boy there in 2000, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said at a Thursday press conference.

James Brennan, another priest, is accused of assaulting a different boy, a 14 year old, in 1996.

Monsignor William Lynn, who served as the Secretary for Clergy for the under former Philadelphia Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the alleged assaults, Williams said.

From 1992 until 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children, the district attorney's office said.

The grand jury found that Lynn, 60, endangered children, including the alleged victims of those charged Thursday, by knowingly allowing dangerous priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to kid

"This behavior will not be tolerated - ultimately they will be judged by a higher authority," Williams said. "We want to ensure that all victims of abuse can call us directly and don't have to filter their story with anyone else."

Avery, Engelhardt and Shero were charged with rape, indecent sexual assault and other criminal charges following the results of a new grand jury investigation of clergy sexual abuse, Williams said. The names of the alleged victims, who are now in their 20s, have not been publicly released.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is fully cooperating with authorities regarding the charges, Cardinal Justin Rigali, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, said in a statement Thursday.

"It is my intention to consider carefully and take very seriously any observations and recommendations of this Grand Jury," Rigali said in the statement. "I also welcome the opportunity for ongoing collaboration with the Philadelphia district attorney's office in the vital work of protecting children."

"Victims of sexual abuse by clergy may find this news deeply painful," Rigali said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them."

The grand jury believed that over 30 priests have remained in ministry in Pennsylvania despite solid, credible allegations of abuse, Williams said.

But Archbishop Rigali challenged that claim.

"The report states that there remain in ministry archdiocesan priests who have credible allegations of abuse against them," he said in a statement Thursday. "I assure all the faithful that there are no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them."

Engelhardt, an Oblate priest, is accused of allegedly orally sodomizing and molesting a 10-year-old alter boy in 1998 in the sacristy at St. Jerome Parish in northeast Philadelphia, Williams said.

According to the grand jury report, Engelhardt allegedly showed the boy pornographic magazines before having him engage in oral intercourse in the sacristy.

Avery, an Archdiocesan priest who was defrocked in 2006 for alleged sexual abuse, is charged with the same alleged offenses against the same boy.

The priest allegedly "undressed the boy, told him God loved him and had him engage in oral intercourse," according to the grand jury report.

Shero, the boy's sixth grade teacher at St. Jerome School, is accused of allegedly orally and anally sodomizing the then 11-year-old in the back of his car, Williams said.

According to the grand jury report, Shero allegedly offered the boy a ride home and then stopped at a park. He told the boy they were "going to have fun," took off his clothes, orally and anally raped him, and then made him walk the rest of the way home.

The grand jury case began when that boy and another victim who are now in their 20s came forward.

"By no means do we believe that these are the only two parishioners who were abused during this period," Williams wrote in the grand jury report.

James Brennan, 47, is accused of allegedly assaulting a different 14-year-old boy in 1996, Williams said. Brennan, an Archdiocesan priest, is accused of allegedly "forcing his penis into the buttocks of a 14-year-old former parishioner when he was in the priest's bed," Williams said.

Brennan became a family friend who often visited the home, where the 14-year-old "was the subject of special attention from the priest, who persistently wrestled with the boy, rubbed his back and shoulders, and openly brought up sex talk," according to the grand jury report.

The boy told his parents, who confronted Brennan. The priest denied the allegations, according to the grand jury report.

The boy "suffered depression, dramatic weight loss, and drug and alcohol addiction," according to the grand jury report.

"Ultimately, he committed suicide," the report said.

At the time, Brennan was on leave from a Catholic high school. In 1997, he returned to active ministry and was assigned to St. Jerome Parish, Williams said.

"This isn't a witch hunt into the Catholic church, or an indictment into the teachings of the church," Williams said. "This is an indictment of bad men doing bad things."

Avery, Engelhardt and Brennan surrendered to the district attorney's office on Thursday, Williams said. Lynn and Shero were expected to surrender Thursday, he said.

If convicted, Avery, Engelhardt, Shero and Brennan face a maximum of 67 years in prison.

Lynn faces a maximum of 14 years in prison if convicted of all charges, according to the district attorney's office.

In addition to the charges, the grand jury also recommended that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia overhaul its procedures for assisting victims and for removing priests accused of molesting minors.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Sex abuse

soundoff (589 Responses)
  1. dixr4chix

    Get rid of gays in church

    February 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  2. Would You?

    Would you let a priest be alone with your kids?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Mike

      YES but not alone with you ass****

      February 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Observer

      Classy Mike. Sounds like just another hypocrite advocating his religion.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Would You?

      Thanks Father Mike.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  3. Mike

    amazing to see the anti-catholic bigots that make all the nasty comments. CNN allows these to be posted but would never dare allow an anti-Islam comment to be posted. Wonder why? Maybe they would issue a jihad or something.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Matthew

      Perhaps all the anti-Islamic posts I've read over time were my imagination.

      February 11, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  4. BigMike100

    The time has come for radical changes. This kind of abuse can no longer be tolerated or covered up. Many victims will, no doubt, be unwilling to come foward. This DA has done what should have been done many, many years ago. Let them serve the rest of their lives in jail and then, thereafter, in hell.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  5. Truth and Justice

    not until I see priests led away in handcuffs, will I ever believe, that the Catholic Church is serious about stopping this abuse. As always, its the cover-up that produces the sickest feelings Ive ever felt. How can this church ever be trusted again. I'm ashamed to be Catholic.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  6. moloa

    Hehehe, The catholic priests strike again..I was kicked out of a catholic school here on Maui back in the 50's.. I guess you could say it was the best thing that ever happened to me. At least my okole is still intact..

    February 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Marlye


      February 10, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  7. Keksi

    Muslims again.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  8. Marlye

    Some of these men go into the Catholic order just to be near children. Who would of suspected a priest of molesting children? Not too many people back in the day and most parents refused to believe that something like that could be happening. My folks being Catholic as they were would of never believed something so heinous could be going on. There's no just punishment for these pervs.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  9. Mattski

    Wow. What a surprise.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  10. name

    reminds me of a joke – There were 3 men in a church a priest, guy1, and guy2. One day the church caught on fire. While the men were escaping some children were in the church with them. guy1 said lets get out of here. guy2 said yea lets go. So the guy1 said what about the kids? Guy2 said screw the kids, then the priest says do we have enough time?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  11. Barry

    Way to go Catholic Church! I seriously don't see how devoted Catholic's can keep putting their hard earned money in the collection plate to pay for the defence of this pedophile rapists and paying off millions upon millions in damages!

    February 10, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  12. j4sef

    What else is new?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  13. Observer

    Maybe if the Catholic Church came out of the Dark Ages and realized that celibacy is "unnatural", then maybe their priests would have a more natural outlet and not pick on the only available victims.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  14. Dan

    Christians just being Christians! They love molesting those little boys!

    February 10, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  15. Tuan

    Let them marry!

    February 10, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Bystander

      But not each other!

      February 10, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • JT

      Marrying does not cure pedophilea.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  16. Daniel

    It's shocking that this is no longer shocking! Organized Religion must go...

    February 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • PGelsman

      Time to revoke the tax free status of religious organizations. Let them pay like everyone else.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  17. freetime1

    If it was something other then the Catholic church there would have been massive rades on churches across the nation. I am starting to hate law enforcement in this country more then the church for letting this continue without any real rades that mean something.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Regis990

      Maybe you should stop hating law enforcement and hate the terrible education you received. It's "raid", not "rade".

      February 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Jim Nashville, TN

      "rade" – obviously not a product of the Catholic school system.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  18. arggg

    What happened to innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. These are accusations and that's it, so far.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • PGelsman

      But how many of these 'accusations' actually turn out to be true? All of them. And it's always just the tip of the iceberg.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • IceT

      It is "presumed" innocent until proven guilty. However not being "proven" guilty does not make you innocent.
      A person is innocent or guilty regardless of what a court finds.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • baronsternberg

      Whoa, PGelsman, that's an ambitious claim to make. ALL of them? None exonerated?

      Easy as that claim is to shoot down, I'll actually give you a chance to back away from it first.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  19. John McD

    I am Catholic and this disgusts me.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Ed

      Why would you be part of this criminal organization?

      February 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  20. David Johnson

    Jesus, Mary and Joseph! It seems like every week a new abuser of boys is uncovered and in all, or very nearly all, the Church enabled the abusers in some way.

    My word! It makes me wish I were Catholic, so I could quit in protest.

    I am disgusted!


    February 10, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • gerald

      these ones aren't new. That's just your wild eyed perception.

      February 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.