21 priests put on leave after review of suspected child sexual abuse
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.
March 8th, 2011
04:12 PM ET

21 priests put on leave after review of suspected child sexual abuse

By the CNN Wire Staff

Philadelphia (CNN) - Twenty-one priests have been placed on administrative leave following a review of suspected child sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia, according to a statement from the city's archbishop.

The church investigated 37 priests identified in a grand jury report as remaining in "active ministry with credible allegations of child sexual abuse," according to Cardinal Justin Rigali.

In addition to the 21 announced Tuesday, three other priests have already been placed on administrative leave after the report was released in February, Rigali said.

Five others would have been subject to administrative leave, he added, but one was already on leave and two others are considered "incapacitated" and have not been in active ministry. Two other priests no longer serve in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, but the church has "notified the superiors of their religious orders and the bishops of the dioceses where they are residing," he said.

"I want to be clear: These administrative leaves are interim measures," Rigali said in a written statement. "They are not in any way final determinations or judgments."

The cardinal added that he wished "to express again my sorrow for the sexual abuse of minors committed by any members of the church, especially clergy."

"I am truly sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, as well as to the members of our community who suffer as a result of this great evil and crime," he said.

In February, 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, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said at a press conference in February.

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 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.

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 remained in ministry in Pennsylvania despite solid, credible allegations of abuse, according to Williams.

Williams on Tuesday said Rigali's actions "are as commendable as they are unprecedented."

"Going forward, in cases involving allegations of abuse by clergy, my office and the Philadelphia police will investigate, and where appropriate we will charge and prosecute. I intend to use the resources of this office to the greatest extent possible to protect the children of Philadelphia," Williams said in a statement.

"In those cases where allegations are not prosecutable because of the statute of limitations or some other reason, we encourage the Archdiocese to take the necessary and proper steps to protect the children for whom they are responsible, as they have done here."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church

soundoff (896 Responses)
  1. Ken

    Shouldn't Peter King hold hearings on these religious figures that use their position to abuse others?

    March 9, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  2. Steve T

    Christianity at its finest.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  3. Kelley Knight

    For all of you condemning all religions ... this isn't about religion.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • MarkinFL

      But it certainly highlights one more case of how religion has been and continues to be abused to control and use people. Children specifically in this case.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Floyd

      @MarkinFL – yes, you are right. These pedophiles abused and used religion for their evil deeds. However, that makes the religion itself a victim too as odd as that sounds. Distinguish the difference between the religion/faith itself, the people that are faithful to the religion, and the creeps that use it for personal evils. Bernie Madoff was a crook that took advantage of unwitting people, but that does not make all business people bad. We are more vigilent of who we use as financial advisors now and we screen more effecively, but we still invest.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  4. MarkinFL

    Well, at least all the recent focus on the way the Catholic church has handled this in the past has kept them from just sweeping it under the carpet. Administrative leave? If they still had a choice they would have probably just sent them to a training seminar to become camp counselors in another Diocese for the upcoming summer break.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  5. Ex-Catholic

    I used to be Catholic.

    Any Catholic who still supports the church, as long as the church as an organization continues to hide these criminals from justice, is supporting criminals. The entire church structure, up to the Pope, is well aware of the pedophiles in the priesthood. They've been sheltering these criminals for years.

    So... Catholics... you have a choice. Continue to support pedophilia, or walk out of the pews and take your money with you. That's all the church wants from you – your money. Once you see it from the outside, you'll know how true it is.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • CHHoosiers

      I know that it is not ALL about money to everyone, but as a ex-catholic myself, I would say that what you say is almost right on. Felt this way since I was mature enough to figure these things out for myself. Think for yourself people as I and Ex-Catholic have.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  6. Kent Allard

    This is the first fruit of an American district attorney having the courage to prosecute, not just pedophiles, but the fiends that hide and protect these sick, vicious criminals.

    The Philadelphia cardinal, for the first time in his life got religion – when he realized that scoundrels like him, that hid behind Jesus's robes and Vatican protocol, might go to jail themselves.

    It is time for prosecutors around the country and world to start going after the pampered pedophile protectors who think they are untouchable. Watch how quickly the church heirarchy cleans it's house after a few cardinals go to prison.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  7. nole

    I agree with cletus; why would anyone in their right mind send their kids to a Catholic school/church event where there were any chance they would be alone with a priest for any length of time? This has happened too many times. Not blaming the parents or kids–not at all. The priests are solely to blame for this heinous abuse. Just don't send your kids to the wolves!!!

    March 9, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Floyd

      Unfortunately pedophiles lurk in every corner of society where the kids are vulnerable, not just Cathilc Churches or schools. They are in the public schools, playgrounds, the internet, sports locker rooms, swimming pools, coaches, parents of your child's friends, neighbours, music, arts, doctors, etc etc. The Catholic Church was too easy for ped's to hide and seeks shelter. These days are hopefully coming to an end finally and these people will be rooted out, exposed, tried, convicted and sentenced. They will find other cover so vigilence is the key but we cannot shelter our children from every facet of society. They need to live and learn, but be protected at the same time. Tag the ped's for life...we have the technology and the laws, let's use it.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  8. Edwin

    These priests need to go to prison, not leave.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Well, there is one little technicality first, the trial.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  9. aqtrughful

    Why am I not surprised? And why aren't these people in jail?

    March 9, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • MarkinFL

      A trial?

      March 9, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  10. WhoLou

    Jesus loves me yes I know . . .

    March 9, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  11. Mari

    These men should all burn in hell for what they have done to these children.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Well, since there is no "hell", we'll just have to deal with them now.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  12. WhoLou

    Jesus loves me yes I know . . .

    March 9, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  13. momof3

    What a sad, sad world we live in. Has it even occurred to the Church be it Catholic, Baptist or whatever that Pedophiles intentionally go into careers to serve the church in order to be exposed to children and trust that they’ll be protected by the Church from their evil acts? The laws and punishments in this country need to be severely rethought. Pedophiles can NOT be rehabilitated and should be castrated and made permanently blind. Another suggestion is to reopen Alcatraz and force them all to congregate together on a lonely desolate island to molest each other. Lawmakers, Judge’s & Attorney’s that defend & write laws to protect pedophiles should imagine being in that child’s shoes and the pain and torture that child was forced to endure. America is in debt right, lets free up some prison space, what about the death penalty, what does the world need pedophiles for anyway?

    March 9, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  14. nelson

    I honestly don't see how being married will stop priest from abusing children that makes absolutely no sense unless every married white man in america secretly wishes he could sleep with children. Because thats what your implying.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Floyd

      "white man"?

      March 9, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  15. 900rr

    Set free poor people sitting in jail for minor offense to make room for thousands of priests! They will be coming in large numbers.
    People nee to reject religion and start thinking with they own head...

    March 9, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Bill

      amen, ooops, I mean agreed, the church is for airheads

      March 9, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Floyd

      Hitler turned away from the Catholic Church and organized religion to use his own head and that did not go so well.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  16. Aaron Mansfield

    Why is it almost always abuse of boys?

    March 9, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Leo

      Accessibility. Traditionally, in the Catholic Church, girls weren't allowed to be altar servers, and priests were never alone with little girls. Plus, if a priest got a girl pregnant, it was easier to catch him. It's a long, twisted history, going way back, involving seclusion of the genders from each other in the Catholic ministry. Priests and nuns, living separately. But yeah, accessibility. A priest setting up in those rooms behind the pulpit would be accompanied by the altar boys. Priests could more easily be seen in the role of a mentor for a boy than a girl, so it was easier for them to have "alone time" with boys.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • @AaronMansfield

      Leo is correct. Plus, the pain and shame of abuse is horrific, and often more so for little boys. Males are less inclined to report abuse than females. In addition, with pedophilia, often the $ex of the child is not as pertinent as the age to the abuser so male or female is irrelevant. Add that, plus Leo's insight, and it makes for more males survivors with priests than females. Make no mistake, however, they do abuse girls. There is a female survivor of clergy abuse in my support group.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  17. Chris

    I have burning hatred for anyone who hurts a child in any way. But I think that they should wait until these men are proven guilty before posting names or images. Most of them very well may be guilty, but what about the innocent ones? This kind of crap can ruin a persons life even if they are innocent.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  18. chief

    This is awesome....

    The grand jury believed that more than 30 priests remained in ministry in Pennsylvania despite solid, credible allegations of abuse, according to Williams.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  19. Michael

    I personally pander to no religion; being on the outside of this issue looking in, I have to wonder if marriage of the priesthood woulcn't at least mitigate some of the problem. Would it solve all? No. Nothing except rooting out all instances and pressing criminal charges will. I've long been disgusted with the church covering up the problem and moving clergy around to different cities without notifying local law enforcement. Make the punishment fit the crime; the best approach is full disclosure and LONG sentences behind bars.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • DYBO

      They should be sent to Mcneil Island to minister to the pedophiles

      March 9, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Lisa

      I don't think marriage would be the answer. I'm sure there are a lot of married pedophiles out there as well.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Dawgmom

      they would be married pedophiles........

      March 9, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  20. cletus

    As human beings we live by two simple modes,right and wrong.History has always repeated its self when it comes to the Catholic church,so why would anyone send their child to a school or program where im sure there's at least a 80% chance of being molested.Would you send your child into shark infested waters even if you could'nt see the sharks ¿¿¿¿

    March 9, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • MsJB

      I agree it's horrific, but exactly where do you get your statistics? You speak as if you have done considerable research; I'm thinking 80% is a bit of a stretch.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • gerald

      80%??? Where did you pull that number out of? It reflects your prejudice more than any fact about anything else. By your thinking and the real numbers we shouldn't be sending our child to a school or allowing them in sports because the chances are better they will be molested by a coach or teacher than a priest. I have posted articles and quotes in other posts that show this. Look them up or do a google yourself.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Ingus

      Is that a fact? 80%? I agree that there should be mental health testing, but to say that your child is going to be molested by a priest 80% of the time is just downright wrong. You should stop making up statistics before you start posting things.

      There are plenty of great parishes helping out the world that don't have child molesters- you just don't hear about them because of that. While the Catholic Church definitely has its problems, it is a gross misunderstanding that the bad outweighs the good.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:38 am |
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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.