Priests, teacher charged with rape

Bucks County Courier Times/February 10, 2011

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office alleges sexual abuse by three priests and one former teacher. A high-ranking archdiocesan priest is charged with endangering children.

Three priests and a former Catholic school teacher were charged Thursday with raping boys and other sexual offenses, and a high-ranking priest was accused of moving problem priests to new parishes without disclosing past sex abuse complaints against them.

One of the priests, the Rev. James Brennan, was the former pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Newtown Township and later assigned to Assumption BVM Parish in Lower Southampton. The teacher, Bernard Shero, lives in Bristol and taught at a school in Philadelphia.

Brennan, 47, of Linfield, allegedly befriended one boy's family while at St. Andrew and then raped the boy years later while on a requested leave of absence, according to a grand jury report released Thursday. Brennan was later reassigned to Assumption, according to the report.

At Assumption in 1999, Brennan attempted to engage in criminal sexual behavior with a 17-year-old Archbishop Wood student who was at the church doing landscape work, according to the grand jury.

Years earlier, the priest had assaulted the boy, the report said.

Shero, 47, of Monroe Street, and two other priests are accused of raping the same 11-year-old boy while at St. Jerome's School in Philadelphia in 1998, the 128-page grand jury report shows. Shero was taken to Lower Bucks Hospital immediately after his arrest Thursday morning because he ingested pills, Bristol police Chief Arnold Porter said. He was treated and released, said hospital spokesman John Coffman.

The three priests and teacher are facing charges of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault on a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and corruption of a minor.

The charges stemmed from a two-year grand jury investigation into priest abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the second such inquiry in the city.

In a rare, if not unprecedented move, the grand jury charged Monsignor William Lynn with endangering children in his role as secretary for clergy under former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Lynn, 60, had a duty to protect children in the five-county archdiocese and refer priests with known sexual problems for rehabilitation or prosecution, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said in announcing the charges.

"He instead lied to parishioners and went out of his way to reassign priests without telling pastors or principals that they were pedophiles," Williams said.

Lynn's defense lawyer said the two endangerment counts should not apply because Lynn did not have any children under his care. He also questioned the merits of the counts, which carry a maximum 14-year prison term.

"We certainly don't concede for a moment that he knew he was putting children at risk," lawyer Tom Bergstrom told The Associated Press.

While American dioceses have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to abuse victims to settle civil lawsuits in recent years, criminal charges in clergy sex abuse cases have been rare.

People who were molested as children often wait for decades before gaining the courage to come forward - usually long after the statute of limitation for criminal charges has run out. A small number of accused clergy have been prosecuted and convicted since 2002, when the clergy sex abuse crisis erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston. However, no bishop or church administrator has been taken to trial over their failures to protect children from accused priests.

Lynn featured prominently in a scathing 2005 grand jury report that found 63 priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese had been credibly accused of child sexual assault over several decades while local church officials turned a blind eye. Frustrated prosecutors then concluded, though, that they could not file any criminal charges because the statute of limitations on the crimes had expired.

Pennsylvania has since revised laws to give child sex-assault victims more time to report abuse, while the archdiocese under Cardinal Justin Rigali has pledged to refer credible complaints to law enforcement.

"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,'' Rigali said in a statement Thursday night. "Please join me in prayer for healing."

According to the grand jury report, Shero and the two priests - the Revs. Charles Engelhardt, now 64, and Edward Avery, now 68, - raped "Billy," a pseudonym for the boy, starting when he was a 10-year-old altar server in 1998. Shero was his sixth-grade teacher the following year.

"One day, Shero told Billy he would give him a ride home from school. But instead of taking Billy straight home, he stopped at a park about a mile from the boy's house," the report said. "After raping Billy, Shero told him to get dressed. He then made the fifth-grader walk the rest of the way home," according to the report.

The alleged victim, plagued like many abuse victims by depression and substance abuse, reported the abuse years later.

Avery had been on the church's radar since at least 1992, after a 29-year-old medical student told the archdiocese that Avery, who frequently moonlighted as a disc jockey at city nightclubs, had abused him in the 1970s and 1980s.

Avery was sent to six months of sex-offender treatment, although his parish was told the leave was for unspecified "health" reasons, the report said. Despite the center's recommendation that he be kept away from adolescents or other vulnerable minors afterward, Lynn recommended him for a position at a parish with an adjacent elementary school, authorities said.

Bevilacqua agreed, but sent him instead to a different parish, St. Jerome.

Rigali succeeded Bevilacqua in 2003 and soon afterward deemed the medical student's abuse claims credible. He removed Avery from his priestly duties that December.

"That was five years too late to protect Billy (a pseudonym for the altar boy) - and who knows how many children," the report said.

According to the report, Bevilacqua could not be charged because there was no evidence linking him to the alleged cover-up of the assaults against these two victims. His lawyer told investigators the 87-year-old retired prelate suffers from cancer and dementia.

It was during the investigation of Avery, Engelhardt and Shero that district attorneys said they uncovered evidence of abuses by Brennan, who began his ministry at St. Andrew in Bucks in 1989.

"Adults in positions of management in Rev. Brennan's assignments have consistently raised concerns concerning his behavior with youth," noted a 2006 report obtained by the grand jury from the Archdiocesan Review Board, created by Bevilacqua.

The newly ordained Brennan began a "close personal relationship" with a 9-year-old boy named "Mark" in the report, according to the grand jury.

Brennan left Bucks in 1991 for positions at Cardinal O'Hara High School and the Divine Providence Village in Montgomery County. Catholic nuns at Divine Providence complained to the archdiocese of Brennan's relationship with young boys, but church leaders only transferred him again, according to the grand jury.

Brennan was sent to St. Mary Magdalen Church and School in Chester County. He later requested the leave of absence from Lynn, who then ran the Archdiocese Office of Clergy.

"Soon after the meeting with Mnsgr. Lynn, Father Brennan met with Cardinal Bevilacqua and repeated the claim that he needed a leave of absence to deal with psychological ramifications from his own childhood sexual abuse," according to the grand jury.

Not long after that meeting, in 1996, Brennan invited the then-14-year-old Mark from St. Andrew's parish to stay with him at the priest's private residence in Chester County.

According to the grand jury's report, Brennan showed Mark pornographic images on a laptop computer. Mark said that he was tired, and attempted to sleep on the living room couch, but Brennan insisted the boy come upstairs to sleep in the priest's bedroom.

"Knowing what was coming next, Mark was so terrified that he slightly urinated himself," according to the grand jury report.

In 1998, Bevilacqua again reassigned Brennan to Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary in Lower Southampton. According to the grand jury report, Brennan taught at the elementary school and became "involved with altar servers."

Brennan again crossed paths with Mark in 1999 and again attempted to engage in criminal sexual behavior with the young man, according to the grand jury.

Mark, then a 17-year-old student at Archbishop Wood High School, was doing community service landscape work at Assumption, when "on his fifth or sixth visit to the parish, he found Father Brennan masturbating in a shed with his pants down. Upon seeing Mark, Father Brennan said, 'Come here,' but Mark left the area and never returned to complete his community service."

Brennan left his position at Assumption in 2000 to join a monastery in South Carolina. He was removed from active church ministry in 2006 but remains a priest, according to the grand jury report.

The archdiocese issued a statement about the grand jury report early Thursday, saying only one complaint had been lodged against Brennan, in January 2006, and it was immediately reported to law enforcement.

"Cardinal Rigali will now refer the matter to the Holy See in accord with the Bishops' Charter and applicable Church norms," the statement read. "During this time, Father Brennan will not be able to function as a priest anywhere."

James McGinnis can be reached at 215-949-3248 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For instant news updates, follow Jim at

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Timeline: the Rev. James Brennan*


Newly ordained James Brennan is assigned to St. Andrew Church in Newtown Township, where he begins a "close relationship" with 9-year-old "Mark," a parishioner, according to a report issued Thursday by a Philadelphia grand jury. Brennan often visits the child at home.


Brennan is sent to Cardinal O'Hara High School in Montgomery County. He works as a chaplain at the nearby Divine Providence Village, a home for disabled girls. Nuns at the home raise concerns about Brennan's relationship with young boys.


Brennan is transferred to St. Mary Magdalen Church and School in Chester County.


Brennan meets Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua to request a leave of absence. Brennan allegedly rapes Mark, who is then age 14.


Brennan is assigned to Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Lower Southampton. Brennan sexually exposes himself to Mark, then 17.


Brennan is sent to a South Carolina monastery


Brennan is removed from active ministry, but remains a priest.


On Feb. 10, Brennan is arrested.

*This information comes from a Philadelphia grand jury report that was released by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

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