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. Adolph Justice

    Let the Parents sodomize them every day for the rest of the Priests' lives with a

    If they are proven guilty.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  2. C.Rodriquez

    I did read comments is 395 and as longer and but I can't read all 395 comments but few word. I'm strong catholic and manys times priest always hurt to INNOCENTS KIDS? And you think I will trust priest no thank you. And plus God always watch you in world. True sad and when time face to face told God Truth then go HELL and Can Be BLACK LAKE too. Cuz. No forgive of Priest 4 No Reason. Nothing Period. And I feel agree tha. I really against to Preist Molsed to Manys INNOCENT Kids then What do. ? I can't believe to Priest Nothing to life. And I do pray and stay be strong Faith my bonding heart to God always! For safe Kids . Then ..Stay PROPERSITY OUT HELL STRANGE PRIEST!. AS MONSTER !
    P.s. I must trippin to inform priest what I feel DAMN! IT SICK!

    February 11, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  3. Me

    @ Mr. McSwellington
    Re: 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.”
    Ha translation...
    » Go back and read it again rocket scientist. 'Mr. Williams' is the prosecuting D.A. basically what he meant was victims could go straight to the D.A.'s office to come forward and press charges, in order to make it less difficult, stressful or embarrassing as MOST victims are ashamed, embarrassed & scared to come forward. So he is saying they can bring their complaints straight to the D.A.'s office as opposed to going to other other officials, or to the P.D. which most people don't know know is always an option.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  4. Dona

    Being a Catholic, I refused to have my son even near a priest. Sad bunch of perverts who destroy young lives under the premise of being Godly. Shame on the Pope and all who allow this to continue.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  5. Horace V

    Sounds like the work of the devil. He must be testing them.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Observer

      Sure. Blame anyone or anything else than the Catholic "men of God" priests.

      February 11, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  6. bnk

    I was raised Catholic and am very embarrassed by these Priests, however, that doesn't make me believe in God less nor does it make me want to condemn Christianity, like some of you have insinuated. These are disgusting, degrading, hateful acts and they should be in jail for the rest of their lives. Please keep faith in a higher power, whoever it may be for you - they will be judged and they will be where they deserve to be. However, please keep in mind that Catholic churches are not where you should be most afraid for your children, it is public schools and that is a fact. Many of these stories wouldn't get as big of a headline if it wasn't related to Christianity. It seems that you condescending religion-hating people seem to not believe in faith and that is your choice. Do not mock me or other Christians because we have faith in someone bigger than us. Your beliefs do not give you any reason to dismiss mine.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  7. DrBertel

    Jesus would not approve.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  8. lolarites

    How long must this evil continue? How long must the Catholic Church turn a blind eye to what is going on while young boys are having their lives ruined? If this is what they want to practice, then why don't they put it in the Catechism and teach it, at least they wouldn't be hypocrites. Where is the outrage? Why do the parishioners let this go on and on? To sit idly by and do nothing makes you just as guilty.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  9. diego

    The Roman Catholic Church = The Church of Satan and His Latter Day Child Molesters

    February 11, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  10. Observer

    It's fun pretending that laws would not exist without Biblical influences. Dream on. Look at other religions.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  11. Whylethem

    Here's a thought, parents take the time to watch your children. Be a parent or don't let them be altar boys!!!

    February 10, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  12. JTC

    The Bible declares that it is a "doctrine of demons" to forbid to marry (1st Timothy 4), yet this is what the Romans insist upon.
    The Roman church forces it's ministers to be celibate which is unnatural.
    Error begets error.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Dee

      The Bible is guidelines - its not the true faith. I guess all we can say is men who don't "get any" are pedophiles, sorry guys but that's what

      February 10, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  13. just a guy from nj

    Anyone who abuses a child should go to prison for the rest of their lives. Hopefully they will get to experience what's its like to be dominated.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  14. nell

    Wake up people. Those priest do not molest little boys because they have taken an oath of celibacy, they molest because they are sick, twisted individuals who will reap what they have sowed. Bringing pain and turmoil to the masses. Disguising yourself as a man of god. You just wait. They will have their day in court....a higher court that is.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Dee

      So are some saying that all men that don't "get any" are pedophiles??? Well OKAY we all better be more careful with out children then...

      February 10, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  15. kawa

    wait... are we not talking about priests being pedophiles? since when did science theories come up in this conversation.. a little off subject. but as i might add this is truly disgusting and im sorry but i hear more about priests touching and raping children then i hear about police officers and teachers doing that stuff... church has become a pedophile wet dream and they all seem to be joining to get in on the action

    February 10, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Dee

      Sorry but statistically you have a far higher chance of being molested by your teacher, your Boy Scout leader or your Baptist minister. I know you don't want to hear that but statisically its true so if you have children make sure you are watching out in a variety of directions....

      February 10, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  16. musings

    The ranks of the Catholic clergy are being thinned. That's why Catholics routinely receive communion from their fellow parishioners – including women. That's also probably why a lot of this stuff is coming to light – it's hard to keep secrets in a church where more of the parish people are involved. Also, the legal system has broken the code of silence and is prosecuting priests as though they were regular people. Hopefully there will be people who are really good becoming priests, just as before, but now they will not have their profession tarnished by these creeps. When some declare themselves to be openly gay, it will be a more honest church.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Dee

      Good points – from a Cathlic

      February 10, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • NL

      "When some declare themselves to be openly gay, it will be a more honest church."
      Who said these priests were gay? Isn't that like generalizing that those who abuse little girls are just ordinary straight men?

      February 11, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  17. Coog91

    If this happened to a child of mine – I'd personally kick the Pope's ass and any other ordained members of the catholic church involved – doesn't matter to me – priest, bishop, cardinal – I'd kick their ass. These people are disgusting and need to be held accountable. I was raised Catholic however; there should be no tolerance for this activity within the church and those who help to cover it up or turn the other way are just as guilty.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • MoInFL

      I'm sorry, did you say, that if this happened to a child of yours you would "kick the priests's ass"? Why don't you just slap the priest on the cheek and tell him to think about what he's just done? Maybe say a few Hail Mary's.... I am Catholic, and I would tie the priest to a chair and then pick up a knife– not too sharp, preferably- and slowly hack of his penis. Such a "holy man" deserves no less.

      February 11, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • ceelid

      I agree. The time is way over due for these degenerate to be prosecuted.

      February 11, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • carlinism

      Organized religion is a business. There is a lot of money in the God business. In the future I expect to see two things in the Catholic Church to draw more suckers. 1. There will be a black Pope 2. There will be women priests........That ought to help shake things up and bring in more idiots.

      February 11, 2011 at 3:13 am |
  18. Reality

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers" , "kneelers" and "pew peasants" will quickly converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No clerics, imams, rabbis, professors of religion and priests needed or desired. Ditto for their houses and classes of "worthless worship". It will be called the great "Pink Slipping" of religion and its leaders. Based on topic story, said elimination should be begin NOW!!!!

    February 10, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Dee

      Let's have a Reality check Reality if it wasn't for Judaism and Christianity there would be no rule of law or the freedoms you enjoy. Say what you will but all of the freedoms we enjoy are as a result of Judeochristian values...now if you want to give those up go ahead and become a Muslim.

      February 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Magic

      If it weren't for sane, reasonable, wise people who took the good points of Judeo-Christian law and tempered and cast aside the bad ones, we would still be stoning adulterers and sassy children and requiring rapists to marry their victims, burning witches and following other similar primitive laws.

      February 10, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Scott from NH

      @Dee, Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world and they are just as free as we are. In fact, a 19 year old can drink a beer there. You can go fishing without a license. The airline security staff aren't going to put their hands in your daughter's panties. Clove cigarettes aren't illegal. You can legally order a rare cheeseburger. You can purchase diabetes medicine without a prescription.

      February 11, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  19. hoaxer

    What do you give the pedophile who has everything?
    Another parish.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • carlinism

      Funny,thanks I needed that.

      February 11, 2011 at 3:05 am |
  20. Jason

    Two words – Chemical castration.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Observer

      Two words – real castration

      February 10, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Dee

      I am a Catholic and I agree with you

      February 10, 2011 at 11:27 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.