Five charged in Philadelphia Archdiocese child sex-abuse case

Philadelphia Inqirer/April 16, 2011

More than two months after their arrest, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office formally presented felony charges Friday against four current or former priests and a former parochial schoolteacher accused of raping two altar boys in the 1990s or enabling their abuse.

The five include the Rev. James J. Brennan and the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, defrocked priest Edward V. Avery, and former teacher Bernard Shero. Brennan allegedly sexually assaulted a teenager in his apartment. The others are accused of sodomizing a 10-year-old at St. Jerome's Parish in Northeast Philadelphia.

Msgr. William J. Lynn, who served as Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's secretary for clergy, is charged with child endangerment for recommending the assignments of known predatory priests.

Brennan did not attend the session, having waived arraignment. The others were present but did not speak. However, their lawyers voiced frustration that prosecutors had yet to give them all of the alleged victims' testimony to the Philadelphia grand jury that recommended the charges against them.

Prosecutors said those materials would be made available before the next hearing.

In its report released Feb. 10, the grand jury also criticized the leadership of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as having failed to adequately investigate claims of misconduct against dozens of its priests.

Cardinal Justin Rigali has since suspended 29 priests and hired an investigative team to review accusations against them.

Lawyers and prosecutors declined to speak to reporters outside the courtroom Friday because Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, who presided over the grand jury investigation and subsequent hearings, had barred them and the five defendants from discussing the case.

Hughes said she was upset that some had gone on television and radio to talk about the case.

The next hearing for the five was set for June 6.

In a statement Friday, the archdiocese said it was not paying legal fees for the defendants charged with rape, but was covering Lynn's costs because "the charges against him relate to the position he held" as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004.

The archdiocese also said Lynn's fees were being paid from "funds in reserve for use at the discretion of the archbishop." The money comes from "unrestricted bequests or the sale of archdiocesan property and not from parish collections, the Catholic Charities appeal," or the current capital campaign.

After the hearing Friday, the national president of a Catholic advocacy group called on U.S. bishops to overhaul their response to clergy sex-abuse cases in light of problems uncovered in Philadelphia.

Dan Bartley, president of Voice of the Faithful, urged the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to make abuse investigations and victim-assistance programs independent of dioceses, and require the resignations of diocesan leaders who flout the rules.

Standing outside the Criminal Justice Center, Bartley also called on bishops to stop opposing changes to state statutes of limitation that would extend the number of years in which victims may sue or bring criminal charges against their alleged abusers.

"This appalling chapter in church history," Bartley said, "must come to an end."

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