Two priests with Delco connections among those indicted for abuse in Philly

Delco News Network/February 10, 2011

Two men who formerly served as priests in Delaware County were among three suspects named today by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams in the sexual assault of children in a northeast Philadelphia Roman Catholic parish as a result of a grand jury investigation.

The grand jury accused the Rev. James J. Brennan, 47, who was on the faculty of Cardinal O'Hara High School in Marple from 1991 to 1996, of assaulting a 14-year-old boy at St. Jerome's parish in Philadelphia in 1996. He surrendered to authorities this morning according to Tasha Jamerson, director of communications for the Philadelphia District Attorney. Brennan had been on leave of absence and restricted from performing priestly duties since Jan. 16, 2006 according to officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Edward V. Avery, 68, who was dismissed from the priesthood March 8, 2006, has been charged with assaulting a 10-year-old boy in St. Jerome parish from 1998 to 1999. He surrendered to civil authorities this morning. Avery was assistant pastor at St. Bernadette Church in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby from June 1970 to June 1972 and assistant pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Chester from June 1972 to February 1976.

The Rev. Charles Englehardt has been charged with assaulting the same St. Jerome parish boy during the same period as Avery's alleged assault and Bernard Shero, a 48-year-old Catholic school lay teacher, is charged with assaulting the same St. Jerome boy in 2000.

Neither Englehardt nor Shero have served or taught in Delaware County, according to archdiocesan spokesman Kenneth Gavin.

"The report recommended that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia overhaul its procedures for assisting victims and for removing from ministry, priests accused of molesting minors. The grand jury encouraged victims to report their abuse first to law enforcement," according to a statement released by Williams' office.

The grand jury also accused the Rev. Msgr. William J. Lynn, a former parochial vicar of St. Katharine of Siena parish in the Wayne section of Radnor, with endangering the welfare of children while he was responsible for investigating clerical sexual abuse from 1992 until 2004 under former Philadelphia Archbishop, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Brennan was in residence at St. Mary Magdalen parish in Upper Providence from June 1995 to April 1996 and at Divine Providence Village, a facility for developmentally disabled women and girls in Maple from June 1991 to June 1995. Brennan served as parochial vicar at St. Jerome's, where the alleged abuse occurred, from July 1997 to June 1998.

Officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said they received allegations that Brennan committed sexual abuse on Jan. 13, 2006 and reported the allegations to the Bucks County and Chester County district attorneys on Jan. 18, 2006. He was parochial vicar at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Feasterville, Bucks County, in 1998, when he was accused of abusing a minor who was not a parish member. He served as parochial vicar at St. Andrew's parish in Newtown, Bucks County from 1989 to 1991.

On Aug. 21, 2006 the archdiocesan review board determined there was sufficient evidence to substantiate the sexual abuse allegations against Brennan. He was living in a private residence being supervised through the archdiocese's Prayer and Penance Program Monitor, awaiting the results of a canonical trial, before he surrendered to civil authorities this morning.

Archdiocesan officials received an allegation that Avery committed sexual abuse in September 1992 and Cardinal Bevilacqua then made him chaplain at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia from December 1993 to Dec. 5, 2003. The Vatican removed Avery from the priesthood in 2006. In September 2007 archdiocesan officials said they turned a new allegation of sexual abuse by Avery over to the Delaware County District Attorney, but determined there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the abuse. Archdiocesan officials turned another allegation of abuse by Avery over to the Philadelphia District Attorney's office Jan. 30, 2009.

Archdiocesan officials said they received an allegation of abuse by Engelhardt, who is a member of the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, Jan. 30, 2009 and turned the allegations over to the Philadelphia District Attorney and ordered Engelhardt to leave his residence at Resurrection of Our Lord parish in Philadelphia the same day. He was living in a residence supervised by the Oblates before surrendering to civil authorities this morning.

Archdiocesan officials also received an allegation of sexual abuse by Shero on Jan. 30, 2009 and reported the allegation to the Philadelphia District Attorney the same day. He was removed from his teaching assignment at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Croydon, Bucks County and his contract was not renewed for the 2009-2010 academic year, according to archdiocesan officials.

Jamerson said Shero was expected to surrender to civil authorities today as was Lynn, the Secretary for Clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 until 2004. The 60-year-old monsignor has been charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the assaults. A woman who answered the phone at St. Joseph's parish in Downingtown, Chester County, where Lynn has been pastor since 2004, referred all requests for comment from Lynn to archdiocesan officials.

Avery, Brennan, Engelhardt and Shero have all been accused of rape, indecent assault and other criminal charges and each face a maximum of 67 years in prison if convicted on all charges. Lynn faces a maximum of 14 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

"The grand jury found that Monsignor Lynn endangered children, including the victims in these most recent cases, by knowingly allowing dangerous priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to children," according to a press release from the Philadelphia District Attorney's office.

In a prepared statement released this morning, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, said he had not yet had the opportunity to review the grand jury report so he could not comment on its contents.

"It is my intention to consider carefully and take very seriously any observations and recommendations of the grand jury. I also welcome the opportunity for ongoing collaboration with the Philadelphia District Attorney's office in the vital work of protecting children," Rigali wrote.

A grand jury investigation launched by former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham in 2002 revealed in 2005 that 63 priests allegedly abused children as far back as the 1940s, 43 of whom had connections with Delaware County. All of them escaped criminal prosecution at that time because Pennsylvania's statute of limitations had expired by the time civil authorities became aware of the alleged abuse.

In 2006 the Pennsylvania Legislature attempted to address the issue by expanding the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse to age 50 for victims. Previously, charges had to be filed within two years of the alleged abuse and no later than age 18.

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