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

    OK, Now we all agree. Religion is bogus,pedophiles should be butchered,all churches should be taxed,Pope Bentdick should be arrested, and reality TV and Dr Phil should be banned!

    February 10, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  2. Observer

    Celibacy is just another example of the contradictions in the Bible. "Be fruitful and multiply". Except, of course, for the very most religious people (Jesus, John the Baptist, most of the disciples, the pope, priests, nuns, monks, etc.) and then they are praised for "not multiplying". In other words, it's just a case of "do as I say and not as I do". Obviously, it doesn't work.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  3. David J Bhaltazhar Esq

    Drop 5 dimes, Heads Roll !!!

    February 10, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  4. Chris

    If your a parent this day in age and take your child or children to a Catholic chruch do not act surprised by any accusations from your child or children later on.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  5. scaredofu

    Everyone is concerned with religion,regardless a boy commited suicide.if it was ur child,would God be the one you would blame?!

    February 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  6. Jay

    If catholics actually read the bible, they would know 90% of their "faith" is based in paganism and false doctrine.

    BABYLON THE GREAT (The world empire of false religion), is coming to her end...

    February 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  7. jeez

    The Pope's purse is on fire!
    The pope's purse is on fire!

    February 10, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  8. Austin

    Are all 3 democrats?

    February 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  9. Beam

    I am glad they were caught and I hope for once, they actually go to prison and the church isn't allowed to ship them off to a place where supposedly they won't be around other children (but of course always are). My heart breaks for these children that were so horribly abused and the damage its done to their faith. Sadly the Catholic church has taken what was good and perverted it so badly this is what its ended up with. This was never meant to be. 🙁 I will be Praying TO Jesus Christ for healing for those hurt..and continued exposure of those doing any abuse in the Catholic church.(or any church). I honestly don't understand why parents continue to even take the chance and take their children to any Catholic church. Its not worth the risk. But then they have been told if they don't attend every week they risk losing their salvation. That is not found in the bible though...

    February 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  10. jen

    I'm not a catholic at all or "read" the bible, I am an Atheist, however I hear alot that being gay is a sin. Normally I'm not one to judge but seems to me someones a hipocrit. The fact these are "men of god" doing "god's work" is horrendous. I feel for the families that have to endure this and the children that were involved. Whether or not people understand where I'm coming from I hope we all can agree that children should never have to endure that, regardless if gender.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  11. Sam

    LOL ... Priests caught off guard again
    Catholics are really into kids.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  12. c-lo

    No where in the Bible does it say that a man should be celebate. God created men to love women. When you tell a priest he cant be married, he will touch and molest the closest person to him. Sad, foolish, man made rule. Hence the epidemic in the catholic church.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • JTC

      In 1st Timothy 4 "forbiding to marry" is called a doctrine of demons.

      February 10, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  13. Toots

    Hah, why is this even surprising anymore? Is it not apparent at this point that the supposed leaders of the Catholic church are just fronting pedophilia? Wake up people!

    February 10, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  14. PhillyMan

    This is a horrible tragedy, if proven true.
    To all you intolerant bigots who condem and judge all priests, as if they are all bad people, here are a few things to consider:
    1) The District Attorney in Philadelphia is an active Catholic.
    2) Protestant ministers, rabbis, school teachers, coaches, fireman and police officers have also been convicted of raping children. However, a civilized society does not condem all men from these groups based on the conduct of some.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  15. Lisa

    Just sick!

    February 10, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  16. concerned Christian

    One word...accountability. Why is there no accountabilty with these priests?? It appears that they protect each other. Maybe each of them need to go to confession with someone other than each other. Many of these so called priests are perverts and need to be locked up. Perhaps the Pope should focus on the perversion in his church and be less concerned about whether or not his parishioners should use condoms. So hypocritical!!

    February 10, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  17. coffeeandtea

    Is the Pope praying for the victims in this abuse?

    February 10, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Thomas in Vancouver

      He's praying that the church won't have to pay out any more money to the victims.

      February 10, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Mei

      The pope has addressed the scandal a lot however the secular media don't report it. You need to read international news through zenit

      February 10, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  18. Beth

    Unfortunately the priesthood has attracted a few gay pedophiles, and I'm afraid the same thing will happen with gay marriage and adoption.

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

      You should be ashamed of yourself for judging others, this has nothing to do with gay people.

      February 10, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Observer

      Your assumption is valid if Westboro Baptist Church can be considered an example of all Christians.

      February 10, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Mindy

      Gay person and child rapists have nothing in common. Are you seriously equating gay marriage and a child rapist?

      February 10, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Philadelphian

      Beth my dear, did you just equate this sick monsters with pedophilia with being gay? Are those two things equal in your mind?

      February 10, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Disgusted

      @Beth: this was seriously the most ignorant thing I have ever heard in my life. And I've heard a lot of ignorant things. As a Catholic (born, raised, and educated) I believe the problem with this religion is people like you.

      February 10, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  19. Liberty Queen

    The catholic church is a pedophile factory and every one of these perps should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law AND go to prison until Death.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  20. RHE

    This abuse will never end until someone addresses the man in charge. I am catholic and went through this only to see abusers in the system raised to the point of demi gods within the church. Initiate a bench warrant for the Pope immediately and do not back down. Each and every one of them knew this was happening for decades and have continued to protect the abusers. This will not stop until the leader (Pope) is held liable for his inactions and cover-up’s.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:06 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.