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. MrMajestik

    If (and most likely) guilty... HANG 'EM HIGH... I am for bring back gallows for these and other S c u m ! Is that better? Supreme Court just today protected speech (8 to 1), you want me to sue you CNN?

    March 3, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  2. Stan

    :Look at the grins and smirks on these freek's faces ..hang them all !!

    February 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  3. Stan

    I say shut down the all churches and open them back up as skateboard parks

    February 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  4. biyids

    If these people were all black, this comment forum would have been ablaze with shameful comments. God bless America!

    February 25, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  5. Carl

    Jesus Christ (pun intended) you would think with the way the media is all over these types of stories that parents would think twice about leaving their kids alone with these pervs. Holy crap parents, get a fkn clue. Another reason to not let religions run your lives.

    February 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  6. Sardukar

    God moves in mysterious ways usually behind your back.

    February 25, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • Belowmee

      Mysterious ways huh? I don't think pelvic thrusts and Colin jabs is what they meant

      February 25, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  7. thedbs

    So when was the bible last updated? It maybe time to stick in a claus that if you bang alter boys you go to hell.

    February 25, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  8. thedbs

    Get rid of religion and you'll save a lot of boys from getting molested...

    February 25, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  9. Donna J.Marn

    This is sickening!!

    February 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  10. samuel


    February 24, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • Belowmee

      If god reveals himself to me , I'm going to tell an adult

      February 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • local_yocal


      March 3, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  11. mighty Steve

    Wow...all it takes is an accusation nowadays and anyone's life can be ruined...it is not like there would be any evidence to present...is it possible there could be any financial incentive for making these claims? hmmm...one certainly has to wonder

    February 24, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  12. JD

    I applaud the State's decision to criminally prosecute the former church official along with the accused priests. After all, he is the one who evidently knew of the abuse and turned a blind eye. As troubling as the abuse is, the real issue for me is the church's long-term systematic protection of known pedophile priests. Brave attorneys such as Jeff Anderson have hit the church hard in the pocketbook for many years. If convicted, church officials should serve time for their criminal indifference to the abuse alongside the actual abusers.

    February 23, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  13. Deb

    This is absolutely horrific. These poor young men have had their lives ruined by these priests. There is no amount of money in the world that can take away their pain. These priests should be castrated in a live televised broadcast. I am tired of all of the child abusers and pedophiles. Just sick.

    February 23, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • geecee827

      Totally agree with you, Deb. I hope the archdiocese in Philadelphia goes broke because of this! Completely disgusting.

      February 23, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  14. Jstsktnby

    @ Dot44 – These men are not gay. If you had a brain that actually worked, you would know that the reason they molest little boys is because buys feel more shame then girls so they are less likely to tell moron.

    February 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • mc

      Sounds like you are one of the abusers and trying to justify this in your head. Not only are they gay, they are GAY CHILD MOLESTERS! They will burn in hell. One shot to the head is too good for them. Send them to prison and real justice will be done. They will get much more than they gave. FREAKS

      February 25, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  15. Also a victim

    I am coming to an end of a year long battle with the Catholic church. I was an abused altar boy in 1982, and had repressed it until early last year. After it came out, I have had a really hard time coping with it. I got a lawyer and sued. They set a date for April 14th to settle. What is really disappointing is that no matter how much money they give me, it won't erase these memories that I will now carry with me for the rest of my life.

    February 22, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  16. GOD

    I predict that the man in the sky will strike these pedophiles dead soon.

    February 19, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  17. reality check

    hope these victims get lawyers and they take to task the Catholic Church and more importantly its Insurers, like The Hartford, Travelers, LIberty Mutual, and Cigna. These claims are "operations" claims. Ergo, there is no aggregate limit to the amount that can be paid out under the insurance policies for these claims. Insurers, who have also known these atrocities have been going on for years, should be held accountable too. Insurers provided risk management to the Catholic Church for years – they have significant information on these activities in their account files......a court just needs to subpeona the policy, risk assessment(underwriting) and claim files. If you just request the claim files, they will not produce the pertinent information, the insurers have also have been hiding for decades. Insurance companies made lots of money off of the archdioces for years and now they are hiding, because they know the average settlement for one of these claims is 1 million plus.

    February 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  18. reality check

    I hope these victims get lawyers and they take to task the Catholic Church and more importantly its Insurers, like The Hartford, Travelers, LIberty Mutual, and Cigna. These claims are "operations" claims. Ergo, there is no aggregate limit to the amount that can be paid out under the insurance policies for these claims. Insurers, who have also known this atrocity has been going on for years, should be held accountable too. Insurers provided risk management to the Catholic Church for years – they have significant information on these activities in their account files......a court just needs to subpeona the policy, risk assessment(underwriting) and claim files. If you just as request the claim files, they will not produce the pertinent information, they also have been hiding for decades.

    February 19, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  19. Marcus

    Welcome to Christianity! lol

    February 19, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • bobincr

      This is Roman Catholicism – NOT Christianity. Big difference.

      February 22, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • bobincr

      True followers of Jesus, whose hearts have been changed, DO NOT chase little boys around the altar. Roman Catholicism does NOT require a changed heart. The foundational rot in the Catholic Church is the denial of the FINISHED work of Christ at Calvary. Once sincere Catholics read the New Testament for themselves, they will understand that they don't need a priest anymore. Jesus has paid the full price for their sins. It is finished! Hebrews 10:26 Catholics, please read your Bibles for yourself!

      February 22, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Lills

      Bobincr@ Bob- Those who believe that Christ existed as the son of God are Christians. This includes Roman Catholics. Quakers are Christian. So are Baptists, Amish, Protestants, Anglican/Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. And Seven-day Adventists and… Eastern Othodox is another denomination. I might be missing some.
      You should pay better attention to religious history, because saying Roman Catholics aren’t Christians is like saying the Pope isn’t Catholic.

      February 23, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  20. a lay Catholic

    If convicted, hang 'em.

    February 18, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Chapstik Lez

      No Dot44, not Gays pedophiles HUGE difference! When you learn the difference you can then respond to such forums, but until then keep your prejudice and ignorance to yourself

      February 22, 2011 at 10:21 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
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.