Philadelphia cardinal orders investigation of 37 priests
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 16th, 2011
04:57 PM ET

Philadelphia cardinal orders investigation of 37 priests

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (CNN) - The Catholic Church in Philadelphia will investigate as many as 37 priests identified in a grand jury report as remaining in "active ministry with credible allegations of child sexual abuse," Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia, said Wednesday.

"Sexual abuse of children is a crime. It is always wrong and gravely evil," Rigali said in a news release. "The grand jury report makes clear that for as much as the archdiocese has done to address child sexual abuse, there is still much to do."

He also announced that three priests were placed on administrative leave pending a review.

"The actions we announce today build on the changes that the church has already announced," Rigali said.

He noted the church had already hired a victim services consultant and a compliance officer, and created a new position of delegate for investigations to assist with the review.

"Many people of faith and in the community at large think that the archdiocese does not understand the gravity of child sexual abuse," Rigali said. "We do."

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams on Wednesday lauded the church announcement.

"I commend Cardinal Rigali and the archdiocese for this latest action," Williams said. "The cardinal's strong words and recent efforts are the correct steps at this time."

Last week, three Philadelphia priests and a parochial school teacher were charged 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, 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 then-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 last week, by knowingly allowing dangerous priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to kids.

"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 counts following the results of the 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 grand jury believed that more than 30 priests have remained in ministry in Pennsylvania despite solid, credible allegations of abuse, Williams said.

Rigali had initially challenged that claim.

- CNN's Sarah Hoye contributed to this report

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Courts • Pennsylvania • United States • Vatican

soundoff (332 Responses)
  1. Reality

    The "puke-producing" topic will hasten the following:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" will converge these religions into some simple rules of life, e.g. DO NO HARM .

    No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  2. Brian

    The police should do all the "investigating." Church "investigations" in the past lead to statements such as "no credible evidence was found" – and that was the end of it.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  3. Frances

    "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." – First of all, let us, the citizens of the United States of America put you on notice: NO, we are not waiting for the judgement of a "higher authority", we will be doing the investigating and our courts will be the judge. As far as "...calling you directly...". We are calling you out. The church has very clearly demonstrated that they have little regard for the hundreds and thousands of people who have come to them over the years with their "stories". Shame on you and your defense of these predators.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  4. fsmgroupie

    they're all smirking knowing the pope will get them the best lawyers possible

    February 16, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  5. God is BS!

    My priest friends moved out of that archdiocese just in time! Keeping a low profile for a few years is better than getting jailed!

    February 16, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  6. stache

    religion equates to killers for christ = killers for allah

    February 16, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  7. Dan

    The police should be all over this case like a priest on a choir boy.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  8. Dan

    The catholic church should not be investigating this. We know what they will do. Nothing. This is a police matter.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Seceding From The USA

      B.S! Cops in Philly are crooked

      February 16, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  9. stache

    religion = abuse

    February 16, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  10. Dan

    We really need to put an end to religion. It is 2011. Wake up people! It was all made up!

    February 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Seceding From The USA

      My fellow Catholic Brethren! Too long have we been persecuted by Protestant, non-religious, and non-Christian groups. Rise up to homegrown tyranny, and we shall form our own country the way the Quakers formed their settlements! Long live religious tolerance! Long live our Church!

      February 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • holly

      Prove it. Please name your resources to back your statement that "it's all made up."
      Thank you.

      February 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Sal

      The burden of proof isn't on non-believers to prove religion false, it's on the believers to prove it is true and to date, after thousands of years there is no proof whatsoever that any of the holy books are anything but fiction. In fact the only proof that has surfaced has been proof refuting the divinity of such books. Religion was created as a form of social control that was greatly needed in ancient times, as a coping mechanism, and as a catch-all way to explain away anything the primitive people couldn't explain through science. We have grown past the uses of religion, they are now nothing more than a hindrance on our progress as a species.

      Basing your life on 2000 year old works of fiction is the equivalent of humans 2000 years from now accepting a compilation of fairy tales (i.e. the "Twilight" series) as their religion.

      February 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  11. Dave

    disgusting pieces of human excrement....yay, God...woo hooo

    February 16, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  12. dasboot91

    What's a pedera$$ Walter?

    February 16, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  13. Daniela

    I'm very concerned and nervous about all of this. I grew up Catholic (the whole 8 year Catholic school thing) but ended up eloping as I was pushing 40 for my first (and only) marriage...

    So now I am in the process of having my marriage blessed so we can raise our son Catholic. My husband is Episcopalian and is not big on the Catholic Church...and now I'm really seeing the light of how bad things are.

    How are you supposed to raise a kid in the Catholic Church these days? Tell them if a priest ever looks at you or talks to you to run away? And never ever ever be alone with one? What message does this send? But how can you not say anything to your kid?

    I am extremely nervous -supposed to have our marriage blessed this Saturday (we were married in a civil ceremony 4 years ago)...wondering if I am doing the wrong thing. Was mainly doing this to create peace with my mother who will not accept our marriage as is.

    Oh life is so complicated...

    February 16, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Sal

      In my opinion, I say don't let the church, your mother, or anyone else put a label on your marriage and your love. The only thing that matters is whether or not you are in love and happy in your marriage. If you can answer yes to these questions, don't pay any attention to any label (good or bad) placed on your marriage by anyone other than you and your husband. Will your marriage being "blessed" have any effect on the love you share for each other? On the flipside, have you known of blessed marriages that have failed or non-blessed marriages that have flourished?

      Trust your heart, and your mind. Work as best as you can to maintain a loving and happy marriage and I'd be willing to bet everything else will fall into place on its own.

      February 17, 2011 at 12:25 am |

    I comment that islamists should be a religion that is looke at for all the atrocities they comit and CNN puts that uner moderation, but continues to allow these vile and hatefilled anit-catholic bigotted posts to remain. Hmmm.. does CNN have an agenda here????

    February 16, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Eric G.

      Yes, they do. They are trying to identify all of the pedophile appologists. Thanks for calling in!

      February 16, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • evolvedDNA

      please stop whining it is your chosen religion no one made you join it. If it was less arrogant and played well with others, rather than little boys then it may have more friends.

      February 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  15. blake

    If found guilty in the courts, prosecute these lowlifes to the full extent of the law. They are giving Christ and His Church a black eye. Shameful.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • JR

      You mean a brown eye...

      February 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Heh

      @JR – hahaha +1

      February 16, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  16. Casey

    It's all so very horrible and tragic. It makes me think that Satan is indeed working hard in the world. The victims of these crimes will be scared for life, and their family's as well. There is no doubt that each case must be investigated, and those guilty punished... and It's about time that the Church took a more pro-active approach. And at this point in History, when the World is most in need of the Word of the Lord, the Church itself has been deeply wounded. It just makes me wonder... Evil is attacking ... Keep the Faith.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  17. 666 talker

    37 more reason's to get rid of religion across the globe.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • psych_doc


      February 16, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  18. Wzrd1

    Nice! So, the fist amendment means nothing to you? Any OTHER amendments don't count in your book?

    February 16, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  19. Fed Up

    It's time we have our own revolt. The Catholic church is a crying shame. It is a stain on America!! it's time for it to go just like Jim and Tammy and Jim swaggert. Enough it enough..close them all down and lock them up.

    February 16, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Crazyhorse

      Ahh religious persecution. Thought we were beyond that, guess not!

      February 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • gerald

      Are you protestant? I'll bet you are. There is as much of this going on in protestant churches. It just doesn't get the attention because CC structure means more money for lawyers. Check out studies by Phil Jenkins, a protestant.

      February 16, 2011 at 10:15 pm |

      ok so lets close down all the catholic schools, hospitals, soup kitchens and other social services provided by the Chgurch and lets see what happens to noy just society-the poorest of teh poor, but also to our economy and taxes as the government takes over all these services!

      February 16, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Eric G.

      @gerald: Keep going pedophile appologist.

      February 16, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • gerald

      God bless you Eric.

      February 16, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  20. Dr. Delhi

    __ Typical Christian Values ___

    February 16, 2011 at 9:57 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.