February 21st, 2012
01:03 AM ET
By The CNN Wire Staff
PHILADELPHIA (CNN) - Jury selection begins Tuesday in the Philadelphia Catholic Archdiocese trial, a case experts have called one of the most sweeping sex abuse scandals in America.
The Philadelphia scandal could open a historic chapter in the abuse crisis, church watchers say, changing the way the American criminal justice system deals with such alleged cases.
A grand jury last year charged four priests and a parochial school teacher with raping and assaulting boys in their care.
The charges were unusual because they went beyond accusations against priests. A church higher-up was charged with covering up the abuse, which church experts say had never happened in the United States before.
All five pleaded not guilty to sexual abuse and conspiracy charges in April.
Edward Avery and Charles Engelhardt were charged with assaulting a 10-year-old boy at St. Jerome Parish in Philadelphia from 1998 to 1999.
Bernard Shero, a teacher at the school, is charged with assaulting the same boy there in 2000. Avery was defrocked in 2006.
James Brennan, another priest, is accused of assaulting a different boy, a 14-year-old, in 1996.
Monsignor William Lynn was also charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the alleged assaults.
From 1992 until 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children.
The grand jury found that Lynn endangered children by knowingly allowing dangerous priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to children.
In addition to the charges, the grand jury alleged that as many as 37 priests remained in ministry in Pennsylvania despite solid, credible allegations of abuse.
Testimony is expected to begin in the case in March.
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