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Philadelphia DA Charges Priests, Teacher In Sex Abuse Case

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Edward Avery, Charles Engelhardt, James Brennan, Bernard Shero, and William Lynn are charged in connection with sex crimes against children.  Photos provided by Phila. DA's office)

Edward Avery, Charles Engelhardt, James Brennan, Bernard Shero, and William Lynn are charged in connection with sex crimes against children. Photos provided by Phila. DA’s office)

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Three priests and a Philadelphia Catholic school teacher have been charged with raping and assaulting two young boys over the course of several years.  A fifth man, a monsignor, has been charged with child endangerment for allegedly allowing the abuse to continue.

The three priests — 68-year-old Edward Avery, 64-year-old Charles Engelhardt, and 47-year-old James Brennan — and a parochial school teacher, 48-year-old Bernard Shero, were all charged with rape, indecent sexual assault and other criminal charges.

Sixty-year-old Monsignor William Lynn, the secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, has been charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the assaults.

The charges, which are the result of a grand jury investigation, were announced by the district attorney’s office on Thursday morning.

Avery and Engelhardt are charged with assaulting a 10-year-old boy at St. Jerome Parish in Northeast Philadelphia from 1998 to 1999.  Shero is charged with assaulting the same boy there in 2000.

Brennan is accused of assaulting a different boy, a 14-year-old, in 1996.

The grand jury found that Lynn, who was responsible for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children, endangered children, including the victims, by knowingly allowing abusive priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to children.

Dave Huddleston reports…

“The grand jury believed that many priests –- dozens of them -– have remained in ministry despite solid, credible allegations of abuse.  It is time for the church to remove all credibly accused priests from ministry, and to put protection of children ahead of protection from scandal,” District Attorney Seth Williams said on Thursday.

Defense attorney Michael McGoven, a former supervisor in the DA’s office who now represents Father Engelhardt, says his client categorically denies the charges and maintains he is an innocent man.

“I think the allegations are completely false and preposterous,” McGovern told KYW Newsradio on Thursday afternoon.  “First of all, the complainant is saying that three separate individuals — three pedophiles at the same school at the same time — abused him.  And I think his story is patently absurd, and I think it will be shown to be that in court.”

Avery, Engelhardt, Shero, and Brennan all face a maximum of 67 years in prison if convicted of all charges. Lynn is facing a maximum of 14 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Bevilacqua was not charged, although the grand jury in its report talks of its “difficult dilemma” in whether to charge the former Archbishop of Philadelphia, who is now 87 and suffering from cancer and dementia, according to his attorney.

DA Williams, a Roman Catholic, said his task in bringing charges against clergy was not a happy one, but said he has a job to do.

“I love my church, but I detest the criminal behavior of priests who abuse or allow the abuse of children,” Williams said.  “I know ultimately they will be judged by a higher authority. For now, it is my responsibility as the elected district attorney of all the citizens of Philadelphia to hold them accountable.”

Williams added, “This is an indictment of bad men who did terrible things who have to be held accountable by secular society.”

A short time later, Cardinal Justin Rigali released a statement saying that the archdiocese had not yet had an opportunity to study the grand jury report but asked for prayer for all child victims of sex abuse.  The statement also said the archdiocese is cooperating fully with civil authorities in this and all related matters.

Speaking publicly for the archdiocese, Bishop Daniel Thomas, disputed findings in the grand jury report that more than 40 priests accused of inappropriate conduct involving minors in the past five years are still in active ministry.

“There are no archdiocesan priests currently in ministry who have an established or admitted allegation of sexual abuse of a minor,” Thomas said.

But the grand jury says its own review of some priest files found convincing and alarming evidence of abuse that had been dismissed as unsubstantiated by that archdiocese review board.

Eyewitness News cameras were there as Msgr. William Lynn turned himself in to the District Attorney’s office Thursday afternoon. His lawyers say he did nothing wrong and equated his role as Secretary of Clergy to that of a human resources manager.

“There’s a reason why he’s not accused of touching a hair on the head of any child,” said his defense attorney Jeff Lindy. “The DA’s office brought him into this case because they want to attack the policies of the archdiocese.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of a similar crime, please contact the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office at 215-686-8783 or email davictimservices@phila.gov

Reported by Tony Hanson; Mark Abrams, KYW Newsradio 1060; Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3; Steve Beck, CBS Philly.

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