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. camilo

    THe worst thing is that this happen and we the people do not do any thing to prevent it. I mean certain religious practice should not be allowed in this country. If one examine how many children have been abuse, this is a practice in the catholic church. It is part of their way of life. This practice and cover up should not be allow on this country and any part of the world.
    This is the worst part we should never, NEVER sent our boys and girls to catholic schools. We are leaving them in the hands of pedophiles. So sad.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  2. 1RingyDingy

    "The City of Brotherly Love" has new meaning...

    February 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  3. akita hunter

    Religion is the most dangerous thing in society! Wake up, why be a lamb and try to justify wrong doings? Blind faith is truly blind and ignorant, even the good must be scrutinized if it is truly good? Wake up and look for the real truth. Science has disproven your claims ten fold!

    February 10, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • graceonfire

      Yes, and science has disproved science a hundred fold, and continues to do so. When are non believers going to realize that religion is not God, and God is not an intellectual argument to be reasoned away? Atheists sure can assume superiority and spew the insults. It speaks volumes of their feelings of anger, bitterness, and betrayal over something as personal as belief. That must be why they cannot let go of the God they claim not to believe exists.

      February 11, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • carlinism

      .Grace,Grace,Grace! Ask yourself why you really go to church. Maybe you want to show off that new dress you bought. Come on now! You have an agenda Wipe off that facade.I have met many a charlatan like you, Don't tell me Christian. Show me Christian! I don't believe in the bureaucracy between man and God which is religion. That's where charlatans like you and priests like these hang out .I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant people like you are sure – that is all that agnosticism means. But I don't mean to offend.

      February 12, 2011 at 5:37 am |
  4. MrMailman

    Watch out for the white man little kids.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  5. cjonlline

    By their fruits you will know them...

    February 10, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  6. tomtom

    Religion = Evil

    February 10, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  7. Locode

    Shut down all churches. It's time for the world to wake up to reality.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  8. akita hunter

    SICK! I hope they throw the key away!

    February 10, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  9. Disbelief

    How on earth does the Catholic Church retain ANY credibility in society? Would ANY OTHER ORGANIZATION be allowed to continue with these hundreds of abuses against children? In fact, the horrific impact of this so called religious group have been nothing but a direct bane to humanity since its inception. A crooked, perverted, contemptuous cancer on humanity. Prove it otherwise, without referring to things intangible. The Intangible does not exist, but the Inquisition happened because of it, Galileo was thwarted, and human development set back therein, because of it, and how many other childrens' lives destroyed by this perversion of society because of it? IT IS BUNK AND NONSENSE. SHAME ON ANYONE CALLING THEMSELVES A CATHOLIC, YOU SUPPORT THESE HORRIBLE ACTS WHETHER YOU BELIEVE YOU DO OR NOT!

    February 10, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  10. Bruce

    Of course many will say that we shouldn't comdemn the entire Catholic church just because a few priest and lay persons are pedophiles; I meam you don't throw out an entire bushel of apples just becuase most of them are rotten do you? You might throw away a dozen good ones for every hundred or so that are rotten to the core!

    February 10, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  11. John grant

    I was born and raised Catholic and I long ago came to see that the Church is a reposiitory of consummate evil. The current pope was a member of Hitler Youth and for years he was responsible for the investigation of such abuse. He did not do it, claims wasn't in the loop. Hundreds of thousand of abused children in Ireland. It goes on.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • leslie

      I was raised Catholic, too, and have many disagreements with the church, "repository of consummate evil" is a little strong. In reference to this issue, yes. ALL of the garbage needs to be thrown out, and I have my own concerns that that might include the man at the top.

      However...there is not a single Catholic I know who isn't appalled and offended by these abuses (both of children and of the law). It makes me sick to my stomach to hear of another story coming out. But if you're going to write off everything associated with the church, you'd better line up some people to run the soup kitchens, adoption agencies, schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, HIV centers, and all the rest. Just sayin.'

      February 10, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Chris

      Leslie, I don't doubt AT ALL that virtually every Catholic that hears about their priests abusing children is sickened by the news. The problem is: all you do is get sickened. That response is woefully insufficient to avoid being PART OF THE PROBLEM.

      February 10, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  12. Davidloc

    Why pray for the victims ?? They should be helped and not ignored which is the equivalent of praying. Then again the priests were taught that this loving god created man and then created rules for man to follow. Then he created another man that for some reason needed a virgin to come out of. This "son" was then put to death so this god would not get mad and uncreate the beings he created for breaking the rules that he made as well. I don't know about you but you have to be pretty messed up to believe that in the first place !!!

    February 10, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  13. Anglican

    There is evil everywhere.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • graceonfire

      It does seem to be a human condition, doesn't it? Along with the "holier than thou" finger pointing. Humanity knows no boundaries. Human is human, regardless of belief system.

      February 11, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  14. K.C.

    This is one reason the RC Church should allow women to be priests. Although a small percentage of women are abusers-they are far and few between compared to men. There are fewer and fewer priests, as the older ones retire and fewer and fewer enter the seminary, yet they will not allow women to be priests. The women allowed in the rectory are there only to wait on the priests!

    February 10, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  15. Rizzo

    Cause I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom
    From the day that I was born I've waved the flag
    Philadelphia freedom took me knee-high to a man
    Yeah gave me peace of mind my daddy never had

    February 10, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  16. Mike

    Only three?

    February 10, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  17. joe

    I can't belive it hang them from there balls

    February 10, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  18. stormsun

    It is so disgusting to read these kinds of stories over and over again. I don't ever want to hear a word the Pope has to say on moral issues until he takes definitive action to exclude and remove pedophiles from his infested colony of predators.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • mullahs

      Yet are u disgusted by how many HUMAN BEINGS the christian taliban crusades massacred? Killing more INNOCENT humans than any other religion in the history of EARTH and WHY???? simply because they did not believe as the murdering christian taliban did.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • lark83

      I think the bottom line with the RC church problems is this: when you require men to live in the unnatural state of celebacy, all you get for applicants is a group of men suffering from various degress of anti-social disorders. Thats really the whole deal. As a group, I really can't think of a more useless bunch. On the outside, a lot of these guys would be marginal misfits living with their parents all their lives. In fact, one local parish priest here did move in his elderly mother.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  19. Andy

    They can be thankful I'm not King.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:19 pm |


    February 10, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Shawn

      And black guys really like unresponsive women.

      February 10, 2011 at 8:27 pm |


      February 10, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • akita hunter

      Thats because ignorant black women don't report it, they just take it any way they can get it

      February 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • mullahs

      Here we have the PEACE AND LOVE the christian taliban promote.
      They FEAST on young boys while demonizing ho mo se xu ality.
      They declare other peoples gods to be sat ans, mus lims bud dhist etc while they do this to their own.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      LOL, hear, hear.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:27 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.