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. Ray Jackson, MS

    If the Vatican is supposed to be a country of its own declare all priests in American citizens of that nation and deport them all for the safety of America's children. The catholic "church" is nothing more than a child r@pe cult.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • baronsternberg

      In accordance with the spirit of your post, maybe all inbred willfully ignorant KnowNothing types can all be put in MS and a big steel fence put up around the whole state.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  2. Jacob

    I can't help but wonder about the Catholics who comment under these posts... Were some of them also told that "God loves them" or, "We're gonna have some fun?" Hard to believe these people are just spirited away to another church so they can re-offend. I agree with whoever said to put them in prison and shove them in general population. See if they can't convince the convicts that God loves them too. You know Bubba is gonna be polishing their seat for them with a gap-toothed grin when they arrive. As for the clown (or clownette) who said they are "only allegations," if it was your lil Eric that removed a portion of his skull with a .45, would you be willing to call it only an allegation still? I think not.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  3. KT

    If someone, an adult, is paying too much attention to your kid, get them away from your child. Enough said. Why are these parents trusting these weirdos?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • Religious sects

      It's too bad people feel that way. It's getting so no one will coach little league or soccer any more for fear of "paying too much attention" to a child.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  4. zach

    religion or not these men need to be put in jail so the inmates can show them real justice since our system oblivisouly isnt working

    February 10, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  5. marc

    Yeah christians.....where is your God?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Religious sects

      Excuses are:
      It's God's plan & we can't know what God has planned for us.
      It's the Devil & the Devil is evil.
      It's free will & God will deal with the sinners.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  6. IceT

    Eventually even the most devout have to give up defending their religion against this never ending stream of hypocrisy.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  7. NamVet

    Could be worse; they could have been creationists molesting birthers.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • baronsternberg

      The press would give a free pass to creationist evangelicals molesting children without a second glance. So would most of the people here.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  8. Father Phil McCrackin

    These no good priests, make it bad for the rest of us. I'm a good earner and I kick up properly. This just makes things more difficult to make a decent living.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Ray Jackson, MS

      Get out of my country and go live in the Vatican with you golden calf pope.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  9. Cletus

    After centuries of bringing horror and atrocities to mankind, the Catholic Church is still allowed to exist.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  10. Ron

    I'm proud to boycott Italian products so long as they give refuge to the Roman Catholic Church. My pasta comes from Iowa, my wine from Oregon and my olivoe oil from Spain. Evil is, evil does.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Tyler

      yeah, too bad your Spanish Olive comes from Spain, where the church also has a great presence. Idiot.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  11. LmD

    If they are found guilty in the court of law, sentence them to life with no parole and then put them in general population. Problem solved. They will be torn apart the first day. Priests make me sick.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  12. Darryl

    These people don't believe in God. This religion, Christianity, is just a way to make money. I think all religions are a bunch of Bull. Jesus was just a man. During Jesus time, there were hundreds of guys who said they were the son of God.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  13. Mike

    Would You- make the comment to my face you coward where do you live

    February 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Observer

      Chill out. Grow up.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  14. Swamped

    Where does the love of God go when the waves turn the minutes to hours.....

    February 10, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  15. Mike

    observer- is this ant classier- you are a Richard Head

    February 10, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Observer

      Grow up. They shouldn't allow children on this adult site. Is English a second language?

      February 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  16. Meehar

    Not surprised at all.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  17. Mr. McSwellington

    "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."

    Ha. Translation: "Please call the church first so we can convince you your abused child is a liar and a sinner, and then guilt your family into keeping quiet under penalty of being excommunicated. Meanwhile, we will transfer your child's abuser to another parish so we can pretend nothing happened." I am a Catholic and I am sickened that these abuses continue to be swept under the proverbial rug and the senior church clergy continues to deny that there is a problem or that they are aware of these crimes when they happen. Dear Catholics everywhere – demand that your chruch leaders come clean and punish the abusers as the criminals they are. Regardless of their clerical affiliation, they deserve the same trials, imprisonment and record that any other pedophile and child abuser would receive.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Patricia

      SHAME ON THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. The pope and all those people that have allowed the abuse are just as guilty. They have NO MORAL authority. GOD will judge them, but here on earth, we should send them to prison to be abused there!!!!!!

      February 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Patricia

      Right now, there are probably lots of abusers out there in the world hiding and being protected by the catholic church. Wake up leaders (if you are) and clean that scourge out of the church. Much like Jesus kicked the pharisees out of his temple. If you CONTINUE HIDING THE ABUSE, YOU ARE JUST AS GUILTY, and should be punished according to the law and God's law. Ashamed to have been a catholic, and seriously discusted by the devil's who have been running our church.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Cheesehead

      The one who said that was the prosecutor not anyone from the church you moron!!!

      February 10, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  18. Tino

    this is a recording...


    February 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  19. Hey Fadda

    i went to st.anthony's......they never touched me or even looked at me. wasn't i good enough?

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

      Don't worry Fadda, I'm sure if you troll the internet or your local red zone, you'll find some old guys who are willing to give you a lift.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • donimus

      Your but wasn't deep enough.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Patricia

      It doesn't happen to everybody. These abusers pick at risk children. KUDOS TO THE AUTHORITIES FOR BRINGING SHAME AND CHARGES TO THESE CRIMINALS AND TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  20. Alycat

    What I am most confused about is...it's always boys being abused by them. I thought these men were supposed to be straight and into women?

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

      Bwwaahahahahahaha!!! Priests...straight? Yeah right. Pageantry, candles, and flowing robes...no, there's not way any of THAT would appeal to a gay man.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:31 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.