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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. carlinism

    The fact is, there are a lot of creepy middle-aged men out there lusting for your kids. They work for MTV, the pharmaceutical industry, McDonald’s, Marlboro and K Street. And recently, there’s been a rash of strangers making their way onto school campuses and targeting our children for death. They’re called military recruiters.You know who’s grabbing your kids at too young an age? Merck, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, by convincing you they’re depressed, hyperactive or suffering from attention-deficit disorder and so they must all get medicated. The drug dealers hooking your kids aren’t in South America, they’re in the halls of Congress handing out campaign donations to your congressmen.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • carlinism

      So many of our kids today are fat drug addicts, it’s almost as if Rush Limbaugh had had puppies. In conclusion, we can pretend that the biggest threat to “our children” is some creep on the Internet, or we can admit it’s Mom and Dad. Because, when your son can’t find France on a map, or touch his toes with his hands, or understand that the ads on TV are lying — including the one in which the Marine turns into Lancelot — then the person fu*king him is you.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  2. John

    I attended parochial school K-8 in Bangor, Maine and was a proud altar boy. Every priest in both of my parishes was stellar. I was happy and very safe, every day.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  3. tommas

    All they have to do is confess their sins and they are going to heaven, so of course they don't feel bad.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      tommas, how little do you know and understand that confessing sins is NOT what is going to take to make it to heaven. Any one can confess their sins to a priest or even God and not repent from the depth of their hearts. These are the very prayers that goes unheard by God. God can not and will never be able to be mocked and lied to. God searches the heart of a man. Accepting Christ as your PERSONAL Lord & Savior, turning your life around and living for God, as well as working out your own salvation until you die is what's going to take to enter into the Kingdom of God.

      God Bless you!

      February 10, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  4. HeIsGod

    I was raised to believe that I was a Catholic, even though we were never taken to church. But, as I got older, I was invited to a non-denominational Church and I was amazed to see how humble and how the people bowed down to worship God. Also, the way they praised God. I was touched in such a way, spiritually! Since that very day, I never had a need to look for another church. Praise the Name of my Lord, Jesus Christ and God that I have been there for almost 16 years.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  5. jb

    Why would any parent in their right mind put their child in a Catholic school? I challenge anyone to give me a sound reason for it.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Steve Orion

      Read my reply to WillyWalnuts.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  6. Judas

    Priests abuse little boys because that is what they have access to. The catholic church keeps women out so little boys is what they get. Religion is so stupid anyway how anyone can believe in these fairy tales is beyond me. These sodomizing pigs need to be dealt with in a way that assures no repeat offense. Telling a little boy god loves you and then stick his tongue up his crack? Make a donation and pray for your souls you sucker beaytches.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  7. dogballs

    Heinous.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  8. carlinism

    If you have a few hundred followers and you let some of them molest children they call you a cult leader.If you have a billion they call you Pope.It's like if you can't pay your mortgage your a deadbeat,but if you can't pay a million mortgages you're Beare Stearns and we bail you out.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • evilmaria

      LMAO..............I will vote for you!!!

      February 10, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  9. HeIsGod

    Every man, regardless if they are priests, will have s8xual desires....LET THESES PRIESTS MARRY AND THIS PERVERTS WILL JUST BE A FEW.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  10. WillyWalnuts

    Two things I'm glad I'm NOT – Catholic or Muslim. Explaining the lunacy perpetrated on innocent victims by righteous members of those two religions is a full-time job for their followers. Is HELL big enough for the staggering number of horrendous offenders?

    February 10, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  11. Mudkip

    It's awwwwwriiiiiiiite

    February 10, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  12. Babydove

    This is not going to go away and the catholics can not just sweep it under a rug like they have done in the past. The priests have lost dominance of the huddled masses that could be badgered with loss of eternity soul.That Mr. pope NEEDS to have an internal audit and throw out anyone who can not keep his hands off young boys. I am not catholic but if I was I would never admit it to anyone. I would hide my head in shame.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  13. tommas

    When will people learn they are worshiping the wrong god. All the flying spaghetti monster!

    February 10, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      And what proof do you have? The flying spaghetti monster??? Wow, you Atheists are not only the biggest fools on earth, you are also very immature.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Jim Jones

      Don't you just love it when the fire n brimstone twunts can't even identify irony when it slaps them hard in the face?? LOL!!!

      February 10, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  14. Mary

    Paedophilia is rife regardless of color, race or creed and sad to say the greatest incidence is at home 😦 Listen to your children, protect them. Put all that aggressive energy into combating that awful abomination. Our children are our future. Keep them safe from all that is so evil

    February 10, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  15. Dan

    I don't know if the man in his 20's is telling the truth or not, but I don't believe everything I hear without evidence. Right now it's one man's word 10 years after the fact. And not to mention a man, that has a huge financial incentive to win a lawsuit for millions of dollars. "

    "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.

    If true, I would definitely expect there to be more too..right now there is only one alive child that is making the claim, since the other committed suicide after "drug and alcohol" problems too. Did the abuse lead to drug and alcohol problems? Maybe, maybe not. Unlike most of the people ready to hang the noose, I don't know.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Jim Jones

      You're one of them aren't you? Call them liars, doubt their stories... you're as evil as the priests that sodomised.... yes anally penetrated ... those CHILDREN. Pervert.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • baronsternberg

      Dan's position is eminently reasonable and logical. Jim Jones can go do like his famous namesake did–it'd be a favor to the rest of us.

      February 11, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Disbelief

      Dan's response is is typical for someone who refuses the see the evil they are party to, just like you seem to be, Baron. After HUNDREDS of court settlements equaling millions of dollars, convictions, accusations, etc etc, you would question the tragic disruption of ONE innocent's life and suggest that perhaps suicide was just the pathetic action of a drug addict. Disgusting application of "logic". The irony of you looking at an image of this rat-faced pope and somehow seeing the image of that Jesus you all believe in.......just as bad as the Muslims who think their belief is somehow different from the Taliban or other murderous sects. You're all delusional, and keep thwarting the evolution and progression of humanity by believing in refutable and ridiculous desert fables.

      By the way, raised catholic, in the very parish that was "shepherded" by Head Pedophile James Porter, who abused my friend's little brother among others. My father dropped me off for confirmation practice while he went off to screw the lady who owned the religious goods store. The church sucked all the money out of a poor neighborhood, and then, when the income dried up, just left the church there, got the hell out of Dodge. They werent their for those lofty reasons you think they were, or else the insanely rich Vatican would have ensured that it kept going. They sucked up money and lives, and scarpered when the well dried up. Dont defend the indefensible.

      February 11, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  16. susie

    Catholic priest have always been cruel, look what they did to the canadian indians, you think they weren't abused the church was always law, hey put themselves above everyone else, all in the name of GOD, I hope GOD strikes you down and makes you pay. why can mariried men and women serve. It doesn't say in the bible that God even appointed a priest. Why is the Catholic church so rich. Jesus was very simple, He did not want Gold trimmings. I am a Catholic and can't even go to church because thats not GOD"S house anymore
    I hope GOD will take care of there these perverts. God said let the little children come onto me HE will take care f them

    February 10, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  17. Joe Vadis

    The kid committed suicide. If I were his father, Brennan would be dead and in hell where he belongs. The molestation of children and teenagers by adults has got to be made a crime punishable by mandatory execution or else it will never stop.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Katherine

      Completely agree. Abusing children is almost worse than murder as they live suffering as a victim. How cruel and evil.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Very true indeed, Joe! So sad that this kid's life went down hill and worst of all, committed suicide because of this pervert.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  18. King Untouchable

    If you try them and jail them your valued standing in america is just the same as theirs DEATH PENALTY INSTATED

    February 10, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  19. biorsel

    Why is it not surprise to me with the cover up??? Anyone watching CNN investigate not too long ago...THE POP DID IT too...

    February 10, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  20. No

    In response to the comment about the Hitler Youth. The current Pope's father openly disapproved of the Nazi regime. Ratzinger, now the Pope, was drafted into the Hitler Youth at 14 due to the law at that time. He attended some meetings and was able to get out of attending others. There are plenty of valid reasons to critique the Catholic Church; don't spread misinformation.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:00 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.