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. jeff smithfield

    why wasn't Bevilaqua charged also???

    February 10, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Former Philly Altar boy

      They probably couldn't prove a case against him. That's why guys like Bevilacqua and Wojtywa hire men like Lynn and Ratzinger. To insulate themselves and provide plausible deniability.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  2. Former Philly Altar boy

    The first beer I ever drank was from a priest! I was 14! Priests were cool because they allowed us all to smoke in the sacristy! And some of them allowed you to look at their p 0 r n. In retrospect it was fishing. And we now know that the guys who went up to the priest's living quarters to check out the new stereo equipment and take private music lessons were the ones who took the bait. And you kept your mouth shut because you had a place to hang out, smoke, drink beer and do whatever you wanted. Yes, this has been going on for a VERY long time in Philly.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Chris

      Thanks for the insight into how that works. It's so disgusting, but I can totally see how that dynamic would work. What an evil way to filter children for abuseability. That is sickening.

      For parents here wondering "what to do?" That's what you do... You watch out for exactly what he said. Actively, not passively, and protect your child above all else.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  3. DJ

    at this point, you would have to question the judgement of any parent who would leave their kid alone with a catholic priest for five seconds. the government should move immediately to suspend the church's tax exempt status until they cough up every single pedophile priest – and every bishop or grand poobah or whatever they call the guys who consistently protect these priests – so they can face a very public trial and hard time in federal prison, where they can have all the man-on-man they want.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  4. anonymous

    People always bring up that its the Church's fault because they make Priests take vows of celibacy, but how does a vow of celibacy account for rampant pedophilia? I know people who are celibate and they don't lust after children. So, really the church is at fault for hiring pedophiles, not for making pedophiles take vows of celibacy.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  5. clarke

    When will this ever stop. These men are evil to the core and how can the church protect these evil people. Terrible, terrible. I starting to think the world has gone mad.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  6. Frank

    This isn't proof that God doesn't exist; only that evil people use him as a mask for their sickness. Of course pedophiles would flock to the priesthood, just like flies flock to poop; it has everything they want, easy access to children, trusting parents, an entire infrastructure ready to cover up their deeds for its own self serving reasons. Boy scouts suffer the same problems though not to this staggering degree.

    This is also the main reason we should pull out of Afghanistan; boylove is so ubiquitous there that in the most rural areas its considered strange for a man NOT to have a boy.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    This men are evil. They should be castrated. How can a church allow these men to prey on the innocent?

    February 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  8. Popeye

    Finally, Priests are being criminally charged before they get sanctuary in the Vatican! Who wants to take bets that these priests will flee the country after posting bail?

    February 10, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  9. IceT

    There are pedophiles from all walks of life, but a priest is supposed to be the human representative of God and the epitome of trust, honesty and safety. It's that deceit that is the hardest to fit in the brain.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  10. jr

    This business of allowing any church from any faith to continue doing thier work and working and following the "canon law" has got to stop. We as a civil society have laws that everyone including organizations must follow. The catholic church is just that an organization controlled by individuals and should no be given any special treatment. They must follow the law like everyone else and they should not be allowed to hide behind the robe of "Religion". That excuse died a long time ago, wake up people!!!!!!!!

    February 10, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  11. Chris

    Anyone who knew about it, even tangentially, should be tried, convicted, and never see the light of day. Period. All the way to the Pope, if necessary. I'm not a believer, but good Catholics don't deserve the be associated with such a global array of heinous crimes, coverups and lies. But they will be – and should – as long as they tolerate it, no matter how unhappily.

    Only good Catholics standing up to bad Catholics will end this insanity. We need more courage of conviction and less dutiful obedience to the grandeur of the Church. Take responsibility for your Faith, or you don't deserve its strength.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  12. Maggie

    I thought all the rapists had to do was repent and they are forgiven and get to go to heaven. Isn't that how christianity works?

    February 10, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Shelia

      You go to heaven when you keep the Lord's comandments. Repent means don't do it again. i would say this isn't the first time they have done this.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  13. dougo

    Once again proving...because of the lack of concern for childrens well being...The catholic Chuch has NOTHING in place to PREVENT OR PUNISH this type of abuse

    February 10, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  14. Tod

    Does the vatican have a recruiting add running on the NAMBLA web site?

    February 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  15. MDJ72

    .....and yet another sordid report about monster priests sodomizing defenseless little kids. BUT DON'T WORRY FOLKS!!!!......They're STILL going to heaven!!!!.....Because they accept Jesus Christ as their lord and saviour and they CONFESSED!! Confession........a one way ticket to heaven for monster rapist priests.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • gerald

      You mix protestantism with Catholicism. THere is no guarantee of heaven for them in Catholicism though repentance is possible..

      February 10, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  16. Russ

    More good stuff from the Family Values Religious right. Just hiding behind the good book. You know what, I'd rather be an athiest, which I am, than join one of these molestation networks called church.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • gerald

      Atheists abuse children too.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Kai

      @Gerald- that's the flimsiest strawman argument I've ever seen. Do you have any statistics, or news articles, or government reports? And just in case your head has been up your @$$ for the past 50 years or so, the CHURCH has been slapped with the massive child molestation scandal, NOT the atheists.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • gerald

      You don't think Atheists commit child abuse. You are incredibly silly and stupid. There is money in the Church for lawsuits is why it has more attention. The rate of abuse in society is about 1 in 7 in 100, around 7% have abused and over 39million cases. Priests have been shown to offend at a rate of less than 2%. Now there is no reason to believe a proportional to society number of atheists have committed these acts. So likely 7% of atheists have abused and 2% of priests have abused. I'll take my chances with the priests.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Senor

      Yes, some atheists molest children, but they don't use God to convince their victims that it is OK.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  17. spellcheck patrol

    It's altar boy, not alter boy.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • mike

      Take it where those boys did and you'll be altered.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  18. 14401

    All religion should be abolished. If men want to become "priest", then they should be neutered, pen** and all. I believe they would be called "eunuchs" in another time. Pretty much take care of the problem wouldn't it. However, that being said, how realistic is it to place a responsibility on a man who was created to do the act in the first place. Just doesn't make sense to me.

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

      Should schools,families, sports with coaches, and the education system be abolished too. There are higher sxual abuse rates in these groups than in the priesthood.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  19. Religious sects

    I feel the church itself causes this. If a person has inappropriate urges (by that I don't mean gay, this is Pedophilia folks) they could see the church and it's celibacy rules as a kind of sanctuary where they may feel they can hide from their problem & hope God cures them.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  20. Stephan

    This is just more proof that "god" does NOT exist. If these men were truely men of "god" than why would they do something so horribly wrong? This is a continous problem with the christian church these days. It's too bad "god" is fake because if he was real, they for sure would be going to hell but because "god" is fake, let me repeat "god" is fake, they will spend a very long time behind bars which is a Man made "hell" not "god". My children will believe in Santa far longer then I let them try to believe in "god" religion is the root of all evil and history and current events prove that time and time again.

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

      Anyone who sends his or her children to a place where people believe that (i) the entire world was created in 7 days about 6,000 years ago, (ii) a guy lived in a whale, (ii) another guy got two of every animal on the planet on a boat, (iii) guy rose up from the dead and floated up into the clouds...should be banned from reproducing. If I ruled the planet, religions would would be outlawed as a con game unless each and every part of their dogma was PROVEN TRUE by our 21st century evidentiary standards.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Eleanor Calvert

      Yes , There is a God . It is too bad you don't believe, but that is your choice. Just because these priests commited these un-Godly things is no reson to not believe. They are human, men who made THEIR choices. I think that deep down you do believe Otherwise you would not even talk about God or hell. This men absolutely deserve punishment,but it will not shake my faith. I also have choices.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • tfitz90

      You should learn how to count before you advocate bans on reproduction...

      February 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • The Half Baked Lunatic

      "god" is ludicrous idea promoted by immoral people to control and pacify the weak minded people. The pope doesn't belive in god, but he does believe in power, influence, and politics. Priests don't believe in god, they just are power hungry wannabees. And the rest of you are the idiots who follow these chumps and give them your money.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Canuck1979

      I agree. This is disgusting. These men should be hung by their you know whats!

      February 10, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • gerald

      These are wolves among the sheep. No proof of anything.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • willowspring

      You are wrong!. It is proof positive that Satan does exist. Bad men do bad things and harm other people. Because cars kill people or guns kill people, does that make the gun or the car wrong? No! It means the people making those conscious decisions are wrong. There is very little in this day and age to encourage anyone to make good choices in life. The filth on TV, in movies, on You Tube, on the internet, and in music is a trap for those that have turned their hearts away from the morals and values that help people make the right choices in life. Every bad choice makes the next bad choice that much easier. Whether because they were not taught right living as children or strayed from the straight and narrow on their own, it makes no difference. Deciding to do wrong is an offense against the fellow man, a person's own soul and also our Creator.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Stephan

      To "willowspring" our "Creator" is more along the lines of being biological than something mythological. To gerald, you are right, this is not proof that god does not exist, its just proof that people who associate and live their life around a fake "thing" tend to believe that other things are fake (law) when in fact their whole life and thier meaning of life (god) is fake.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Stephen


      One thing you and many others fail to realize is that it does not say anywhere in the Bible that church going men and women, priests, preachers, and evangelists are good people. God put a lot of disgusting rapists on this earth, just as he put a lot of good and decent people on this earth.

      God also is a vengeful, judgemental, and pain giving being when he sees fit. The Bible doesn't talk about everything being nice and sweet for everyone on earth. God does not owe anyone anything. These ways of thinking are recent liberal ideas that all people should be nice to each other. God is not always nice. That's the way it is. Some people are chosen and others are not. Those who are not will suffer and die. It's a hard truth and very difficult for liberal thinking people to understand.

      It does not matter if you believe in God or not. He exists without your approval and will judge you one way or the other eventually.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • gerald

      stephen it is mathematically likely that a higher percentage of atheists molest children than priests> The rate for priests is less than 2%. The rate of child abuses in society is 7% and there is no reason to believe that atheists are less likely to offend than others. In fact there is less of a moral imperative motivating them to fight there desires.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Stephan

      Gerald, until you can actually prove that athiest molest more children than priests, you can't make that assumption, and I'm not saying just priests molest children, there are a lot of sick people out there. Athiests are not less likely to have lower morales, I have high morales and I don't believe in god but what I do believe in is civil society and the law, both make me live in civalization and prevent me from doing crimes that would get me in trouble and possibly hurt other people. God has nothing to do with the morales the population as a hole, take muslims extremists for example, are they right or wrong to you? Probably wrong because in your view of god they are wrong, and in my view of living in a society as we do in America (I don't know if you're American or not), they are wrong. You think they are wrong because of your belief (assuming some sort of christian faith) and I think they are wrong because its against humanity and the law. Religion or Athiesm has nothing to do with moral.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:58 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.