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. B.Slider

    What a shock, catholic priests abusing young boys. These clerics all need to meet and spend some quality time with ABDULLAH THE BUTCHER. He can show them the most direct route
    to meet their savior.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  2. Bill

    There must be something in those little cookies (or mints or the little things the priest gives them each Sunday) that turns kids off on females? Hey, little catholic boys, here's an idea, if you like girls, stop eating those things the priest is giving you. He's not interested in your belief in Christ, he wants to get your pants down around your ankles.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • carlinism

      Do you know how to get a nun pregnant? .......Dress her like an Alter Boy! ...........................Not my favorite story either!

      February 10, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  3. johnfromKs

    This is truly sad it doesn't matter what religion you are or what school you send your kids to this could happen to any child anywhere. The important thing is to make sure theses offal guys are not allowed to have anything to do with children. Also I am not catholic and I don't believe in that religion but would never belittle someone's religious views.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  4. The Anti Statue

    Why don't they ever show pictures of the little boys?

    February 10, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  5. YOUR gOD, CNN!

    I am the lord your god, CNN. you will obey me. all that i say is the law of the world. nothing is errant. you will obey all media outlets. truth is found in glossy magazines and television. abolish religion! (but i don't mind the meager $2 to $20 you put in the collection basket at churches because of the 10's of thousands you spend on self indulgence that enters into the pockets of my Legions.)

    February 10, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  6. dj23

    what? priests? little boys? i dont believe it!!

    February 10, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  7. KeninTexas

    This is absolutely disgraceful! These guys should be prosecuted and locked up. I find it a very good idea to go after the administrator who was supposed to be responsible for protecting the kids from these kinds of monsters. He failed to perform his duties and children suffered for it. Whatever the reason, he's still responsible for his lack of actions.
    This isn't about some long ago crimes that were dug up to make headlines and line some lawyers pockets as so many of these allegations have been. This was just a few years ago. And possibly newer crimes may be uncovered before it's over with. This is so sad. It makes you want to vomit.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  8. YOUR gOD

    I am the lord your god, CNN. you will obey me. all that i say is the law of the world. nothing is errant. you will obey all media outlets. truth is found in glossy magazines and television. abolish religion! (but i don't mind the meager $2 to $20 you put in the collection basket at churches because of the 10's of thousands you spend on self indulgence that enters into the pockets of me Legions.)

    February 10, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • carlinism

      Drink some strong black coffee. Sober up and try again. I hope you don't have a hangover in the morning.

      February 10, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  9. Judas

    The fact that this is happening speaks volumes about this sham religion. Priests aren't just let in off the street. They have to go through a long process. If this all knowing god that can see the future allows this stuff to happen then who wants to worship that? Catholics have an excuse for everything. You get your way it is a miracle, if you don't then it's your cross to bear. They have an answer for every situation that always refers the inquisitive mind away from whatever is behind the curtain.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • carlinism

      Good Post!

      February 10, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  10. dfr1313

    Where was God to protect the kids?

    February 10, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  11. dfr1313

    Were was God to protect these kids??

    February 10, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      As is becoming increasingly obvious, THERE ARE NO GODS, NOT EVEN JUST ONE, NO SATAN EITHER. Just manmade tribal myths and sky fairies, and evil "men" hiding behind them.

      February 10, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  12. Judas

    Right on Hoog. People defend these losers because they're supposedly a ticket taker at the gate of salvation. The Walmart cashier they get the book thrown at them because as much as we love rollback pricing Walmart hasn't found a way to sell salvation yet. Apparently sodomizing America's youth is the fee that suits these sick loser power/fear mongers.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  13. Nicole

    Totally pathetic...like usual. This is why I don't go to church...people (if you can call them that) like these guys are going to do stuff like this then preach to everyone to live better lives. Maybe they should take some of their own advice. Totally pathetic!

    February 10, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  14. Judas

    Screw let god be the judge. What fun is that? That's a losers cop out giving in to something they can't control. My life is great following basic morals and laws without having to pay homage to the invisible god and the silly rules that his creators have invented over the years to keep people in line while getting rich.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • carlinism

      You are wise beyond your years Grasshopper!

      February 10, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  15. Kim

    What the he// is wrong with these people? It seems as if these sicko perverts went into the Catholic church on purpose because somehow they knew it was ripe with opportunity. I mean, really, what is up with this church and all the perverts?

    February 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • carlinism

      Not THIS church,ALL churches! If there is a God, you give him very little credit. What intelligent God would be associated with any of the religions on this Earth!

      February 10, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  16. mjschriner

    These God Damned priests have destroyed the Catholic religion and what's worse is the pathetic Bishops, Cardinals and other clergy members that covered up these shameful acts against our children. They will all rot in hell and the sooner the better!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 10, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  17. HotAirAce

    What a disgusting lot! Pope-a-dope sure is on top his pedophile priest problem – NOT!

    Nearly 300 responses and no sign of CatholicMom... She must be having a hard time coming up with some way to defend her beloved church. Yes, I know: innocent until proven guilty, not the church – just evil men, the victims are just looking for money, etc., etc.

    I hope they sue the local church(es) to the point of bankruptcy!

    February 10, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  18. Judas

    I will never let my kids near a catholic church unless I'm next to them armed with a weapon of some sort. Shameful how they use the fear of the wrath of a fairy tale god to take your money and screw your kids.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Tom

      Catholics have a white elephant, and it's themselves.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  19. Sorrowful

    Is it right to condemn the whole organization or religion because of the small percent of those who have wandered away from the faith hurting others? Be careful of your judgement on others. Let God be the judge.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Hoog

      You will be judged, because by supporting the Church, you're supporting the decades long cover up for probably thousands of crimes against freaking CHILDREN! If this was happening in a Walmart or Target, you would cry for an investigation, and criminal charges, but because they support your fantasy and delusion, then its different. You should be ashamed for being one of the many who claim that its minority. Any number greater than zero is unacceptable.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Tom

      How many priests molesting little children is enough? That's the question you SHOULD be ASKING! Idiot.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Walk in Faith

      Yes, it is right to condemn the whole organization if there is proof of systematic cover up known from all levels of the organization. Cover up to protect the perpetrators at the expense and further harm to children.
      You see, the Catholic Church should not be blamed for the acts of bad Priests. They should be blamed for their inaction and in the end their role in the conspiracy to cover up the actions of some Priests. Even to this day they officially say that ordaining women is as grave a sin as pedophillia. REALLY? Raping children is the same in God's view as a woman who has become a Priest. And this is what they said a few months ago. So I would have to say there is a structural problem with the Church. And we should not leave it to God to fix.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • mjschriner

      The point is not the few that commit the crimes, it's the many that cover them up. Who is more guitly, the pedophile priest or his superior that covers up the crime allowing him to conintue destroying young lives?

      February 10, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • carlinism

      I know a doctor that can help you! lol

      February 10, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Pointer

      "Religion"? This is nothing to do with all religions. Its only related to priests, and you know priests are not budhists, imams, or rabbis..

      February 10, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  20. kar8zengo

    Line from Forest Gump:

    "Sometimes, I guess there just aren't enough rocks..."

    February 10, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Tom

      That settles it. No more church for my kids. I'm outta here folks! Bye

      February 10, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
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.