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. lou

    How incredibly horrifying for the victims and the public. Until the fox quits guarding the hen house, I expect nothing will change unfortunately. There already have been far too many cases of this type of abuse and cover up. The real question is: why? Why hasn't Rome been more responsive in weeding this people out. I'm all for praying for the victims, their families and resolution but I also advocate for justice for the victims. How come "praying for justice" isn't include in the prayer request?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  2. Observer

    It would be interesting to know if they would have been satisfied to be able to have a normal life without celibacy and with women.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Grossed Out

      If they were attracted to females, these would be female children.

      They are attracted to kids. Being a priest is a great way to get around kids and to gain quick trust from parents. These people are predators. PREDATORS.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Observer

      I am not that familiar with the Catholic Church, but don't priests deal mostly with boys and relatively seldom with girls? I wouldn't be surprised if it was the access to only children that is the factor and not whether they were male or female.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  3. Mark

    This only fuels my absolute contempt for the Catholic church. I like many others feel exactly the same way about how seriously the Catholic Church seems to be about attacking this and rooting out these SOBs. I would spare NO expense. I would personally see to it that these men were hauled into jail to face the harshest penalty under the law. I would expose ANYONE regardless of status or position. I would cooperate to the fullest extent possible with the authorities to make sure that these guys were exposed. My No.1 priority would be the safety and well being of those innocent kids that ultimately were under my care. But these sh-t bags don't really seem to give a d-mn. The reputation of the Catholic Church (which in my opinion ain't worth a f–k anyway) seems to be their main priority. If a few kids' lives get destroyed in the process.......oh well. Desp-icable, desp-icable..........and the only tiny silver lining to the whole mess is knowing that their actions haven't escaped the ever seeing eye of Almighty God. You don't have to be too familiar with the Bible to know that there are two things that God in Heaven is extremely passionate about and that's widows, and children. You could see it in Jesus' ministry. He had a heart for little kids. He loved little kids. Jesus scolded his own diciples when they tried to keep the children from him. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, for such is the kingdom of Heaven". In another part of scripture, Jesus says, "Woe unto anyone who harms one of these little ones of mine, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the depths of the sea".

    I'll never set foot in another Catholic church. I'll never trust a "Priest". Pedo-philes and $exual deviants....the whole lot of em. I know it sounds terrible, but I hope these guys meet a violent end.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  4. Frightened In Filly

    My twin boys were accepted into the local parochial school. They are supposed to start in September of 2011. What is a parent to do. I really don't like the public school. and yet, this frightens the heck out of me and my husband. This school has three priests that seem ok. Guess you just can't be sure.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • 14401

      What's the question. You already seem to know the answer. Protect your children.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Should've caught them sooner!

      Don't let your kids have any time alone with these guys. All of these guys "seemed" good or okay. I knew a pedophile and the entire neighborhood thought he was the greatest guy. It's an act.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Mark

      It's a dilema, there's no doubt. I mean, public schools aren't worth a crap. They toss your kid in a room with the whole range of kids from those that want to learn to those who couldn't care less. I loathe what public school has become, so I understand your point.

      You're absolutely right...."Guess you can't be sure". That's why, in my opinion they're ALL GUILTY. Until I can look inside a man's heart and see what he is....they're all suspect to me.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Bald Guy J

      Hyesterical...this stuff happens in regular schools too. Are we not going to let our kids go there either? In fact, there was a shooting at the mall last weekend here. No more malls for the kids. I heard about a McDonalds that was held up a few weeks ago. Let's stop them from eating too. Blah blah blah... Fact of the matter is, these guys are sickos. Plain and simple. That doesn't mean that everyone at every school (Catholic or otherwise) is a sicko.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Joel

      Try to find a private school that doesn't have priests. We can't always be around to protect our kids, but we can try to limit risks. Do you really think that there isn't at least one pedophile amoung those 3 priests?

      February 10, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  5. KT

    RE: Religious Sects

    That's life. If you saw someone paying an abnormal amount of attention to your kid, you'd trust them? There's no reason for a 40-50 year old man wanting to be around your kid. Plain and simple. Little League coaches? Sure, but I wouldn't like my kids hanging out with them after: http://www.wsbt.com/news/wpix-queens-coach-arrested-for-molesting-players,0,5344644.story

    February 10, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Religious sects

      You're right, that is life, and that's very sad.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  6. Jeff

    They should all burn in hell!

    February 10, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • KT

      They will!

      February 10, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  7. Ed Bermeo

    this is shocking and unheard of.......oh wait

    February 10, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  8. Charles

    These perverts, with direction from the Vatican, are doing the same disgusting operations they did in Martin Luther's day. The unfortunate problem is that they influence the votes of the fools who follow them like blind sheep.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  9. diojisdad

    Perverts !!

    February 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  10. Gaucho420

    So when will we mature enough to ban all religious schools? We worry about games, music, movies affect on kids, yet here we are ignoring an obvoius truth that religion, schools and kids shouldn't mix. Where's the outcry to ban this ridiculous combination?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Bald Guy J

      Ban religion? Yeah, real mature call. We'll go ahead and NOT follow the obvious example you're setting...

      February 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Joel

      Why are you lumping all religous schools together? I only hear about Catholics doing this. As far as I know it is the only religion that recruits and supports pedophiles.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  11. triumph110

    This is happening all over the country. Go to http://www.schoolteachernews.com and click on the Scandal page. They also have a map of where the incidents have taken place. Already this year they have found over 50 of these incidents. In 2010 they found over 400 of these kinds of cases.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  12. Carl

    Where is the oversite for these horrific crimes to continue in the Church?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  13. Valerie

    This is so horrible... I don't understand what would make them think that their behavior is acceptable.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Grossed Out

      They don't think it's acceptable, they are just perverts who are attracted to children. They don't care about what's wrong or right for the kid or what lasting effect it will have on them, they just want to get off. Disgusting.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  14. John O

    I'm a Catholic that is disgusted by this as well. I believe allowing priest to marry, female priest, improve screening and monitoring etc will help reduce this.

    Unfortunately even in an organization such as the Church, people still abuse their power. I just wish people would not assume everyone and everything associated with the Church is evil. The Church has done a tremendous amount of good, not just within their own parishes, but through out the world. Do a search on "Catholic charities", "Catholic Relief Services" for more insight.

    Hopefully justice will occur, the victims will find peace, and the Church can work to prevent this in the future.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • birdfish

      Yah, lots of good. Like the Spanish Inquisition!

      February 10, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • mat

      john read Matthew 7:21-23

      February 10, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • baronsternberg

      See my post to donimus, John.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  15. LmD

    I wouldn't let my kid hang out with bunch of grown men in robes at church. Especially a Catholic Church. They've got a track record as to what they're about.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  16. Dr. Ed

    These are sick men. This deserves a thourough investigation, just to see how big the coverup was. don't be surprised if this isn't much larger. If this diocease was covering up, then there is more. Keep digging DA

    February 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  17. Edward

    How absolutely terrible. A ten year old? Jeez, how disgusting can you get.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  18. Inciteful

    Obviously, the Roman Catholic Church has been and, arguably, still is absent LEADERSHIP, where it has been most needed. Those accused of abuse should have been turned over to civil authorities to be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, prosecuted and convicted. "Men of faith" do not enter the priesthood and THEN become pedophiles. Instead, pedophiles see and use the priesthood as a means to gain access to children to satisfy their depravity. "Screening" candidates for the priesthood is, apparently, woefully inadequate. It boggles my mind why any priest in a position of authority could allow this to happen.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  19. donimus

    This partly the Catholic Church's fault – they make these guys pledge to stay celibate. There's not that many humans who has that kind of control. That pledge to stay celibate started way back about 1500 years ago – that provision needs to be buried. And it should be in step with the times – let these guys get married but than again its always little boys, so even if they were married that might not solve it – l give up.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • baronsternberg

      Every time I hear this sackofdogs*at argument revived, I want to hurl. It is patent nonsense.

      Jesus himself said (Mt 19) that there were people who weren't cut out for marriage (not "eunuchs," as some translations have it), and that among the varying reasons for this was the reason that it was for the greater glory of God.

      And nobody is forcing these people to become priests. If they have no pre-existing vocation to celibacy, then they shouldn't suddenly be discovering a "priestly vocation." Keeping such people out is what the Church should be doing. Failing to do so is the real failure here, not that of having vows of celibacy.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  20. PAUL

    the priesthood ended at the destruction of the temple , the old testament ended, and the new testament began in the first century, we no longer have a priesthood after the destruction of the temple, these people are liveing two thousand years in the past,

    February 10, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Biblical Accordian

      who told you this Paul? Or do you make this up as you go?

      February 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Gbird

      Who formed the beliefs that you utilize to interpret scripture Biblical Accordian? When you get to the bottom, anybodies beliefs are pretty weird. He has his interpretation, you have yours, and no ones’ interpretation is perfect. None of it is provable, if it were it wouldn’t require faith, and if it didn’t require faith; it wouldn’t be religion.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
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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.