US priests, teacher charged with rape

2011-02-11 11:32

Philadelphia - Two Roman Catholic priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher were charged on Thursday with raping young boys, while a former high-ranking church official was accused of transferring problem priests to new parishes without warning anyone of prior sex-abuse complaints.

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 the 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, aged 60, had a duty to protect children in the five-county archdiocese and refer priests with known sexual problems for rehabilitation or prosecution, 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 paedophiles," Williams said.

Lynn's defence 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.

Statute of limitations hurdle

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

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.

Striptease after mass

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.

The current case, referred by the archdiocese, involves two victims, one of them a boy who was allegedly abused by two priests and his sixth-grade teacher at St Jerome Parish, starting when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in 1998.

The Reverend Charles Engelhardt, now aged 64, and the Reverend Edward Avery, now aged 68, both raped the boy in the church sacristy after Mass, the report charged. Engelhardt also allegedly gave the boy wine and showed him pornography.

He later told Avery about the encounter, prompting Avery to demand that the boy perform a striptease act after Mass, followed by oral and anal sex, the report said.

Bernard Shero, now aged 48, his sixth-grade teacher the next year, raped him during a ride home from school, then made him walk home, the report said.

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

Sex-offender treatment

Avery had been on the church's radar since at least 1992. That's when 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 centre'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.

Suicide attempt

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.

While investigating Engelhardt, authorities came to charge his predecessor at St Jerome, the Reverend James J Brennan, with raping a 14-year-old boy. The alleged abuse occurred during a leave of absence Brennan requested in 1996 to deal with what he called his own childhood sexual abuse, the report said.

The victim, a member of St Andrew Church in the Philadelphia suburb of Newtown, later attempted suicide, the report said.

Lynn and other church officials had also been aware that Brennan, now aged 47, had a prior history of impropriety with minors, the report said.

And, even today, 37 accused priests in the archdiocese work in assignments that put them near children while complaints are investigated or, in some cases, deemed not credible, the grand jury found.

"We would have assumed, by the year 2011, after all the revelations both here and around the world, that the church would not risk its youth by leaving them in the presence of priests subjected to substantial evidence of abuse. That is not the case," the report said.

'Deeply painful'

Lynn, now assigned to a parish in suburban Downingtown, and the four others were surrendering on Thursday to await arraignment. A defence lawyer for Brennan did not immediately return a message; it wasn't immediately clear whether the others had lawyers.

Rigali vowed to take the grand jury report and its calls for further reforms seriously. He said in a statement on Thursday night that there are "no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them".

A lay Catholic group called that tracks data related to the priest abuse problem praised Williams' decision to pursue church leaders.

"To date, not one bishop or church official has spent a single day in jail for enabling crimes against children," the group said in a statement.

"Victims of sexual abuse by clergy may find this news deeply painful. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. It is in this spirit that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is co-operating fully with the civil authorities in this and all related matters," Rigali said in a statement.

The Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, averted criminal charges in 2002 by admitting it had harmed children when church officials transferred accused priests among parishes, and agreed to allow state prosecutors to audit the diocese's child protection policies.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati pleaded no contest in 2003 to charges of failing to tell authorities about sex abuse claims against priests, paid a fine and created a fund for victims.

Also in 2003, Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien admitted he sheltered abusive priests in a deal that carried immunity from indictment for obstruction of justice. He agreed to institute reforms and cede some authority to other church officials.

  • Jason - 2011-02-11 12:10

    The church and Pedo's... If GOD hears all and see all.. surely he can filter these guys out of the system

      Susannomore - 2011-02-12 07:12

      He does - in the afterlife. They go straight downstairs to the little red man

  • jnrb71 - 2011-02-11 12:20

    Where does this "vow of celibacy" come from?? Certainly not from the Bible because God invented sex and he told man to enjoy it within His parameters. the vow is man made and because of it, all these horrible things happen.It makes me think of Jesus' view on the Pharisees (see Matthew 23:3b-4) "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulder's, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."

      Xenonphobic - 2011-02-13 14:55

      The vow was created by the catholic church in order to secure the belongings of its' priests after they died. If they were forced to be celibate they wouldn't marry and there would be no next of kin to claim inheritance. It's one of the reasons the Catholic church is so extremely wealthy now.

      lmduplessis - 2011-02-13 17:43

      But of course you'll never hear a Priest admit to this in any way shape or form.

  • Ryno Rousseau - 2011-02-11 12:30

    I absolutely love reading about the leaders of the Christian community. Its fantastic.

  • jeremy - 2011-02-11 12:35

    There's something seriously wrong with Catholicism. Maybe a vow of celibacy works in a closed environment like a monastery - but evidently not in the modern outside world, judging by the number of priests who take out their sexual frustrations on vulnerable young boys.

  • daboss247365 - 2011-02-11 13:01

    WTF glad i dropped religion a long time ago

  • kerry garcia - 2011-02-11 13:41

    These are the ppl you look up to and go for help......may they burn in hell.

  • rammstein.f4n - 2011-02-11 14:39

    These people and the church are evil.

      cptkid333 - 2011-02-14 12:09

      Don't blame the church for producing sick and evil men, these men were sick and evil to begin with, they hid behind the veil of their offices, abusing the trust placed in their hand. Put the blame where it really belongs.

  • siyandamabunucharity - 2011-02-11 15:28

    Priests are actually the one's who are actually corrapt instade they should be showing us the way and yet they decieve us from now on i dont trust priests anymore!!!!!!!

  • spiral - 2011-02-14 08:24

    Sick! The Bible says that if anyone leeds children astray, it would be better for them to tie a millstone around their necks & throw themselves in the ocean! Ill organise the millstones, anyone got a boat??

  • Phronck - 2011-02-14 09:03

    Unfortunately 68% of all child abuse happens in the family (US statistic). Your child is safer in the arms of a priest than a dad, fact. A study done (John Jay Report) in the US found that from 1950 to 2004 only 4% of all priests in that time were accused of abuse, and only 2% could be classified as Paedophilia, harldy a big numberand that's not the conviction rate which is much lower. Reporting of abuse is the same in the family or in the church, people are ashamed and it takes time. My point is, the media reports all the Catholic Priest abuses but not the ones in protestant churchs or schools etc...The fact is most liberals don't like the Catholic Church's stand on morality and hence will be prejudiced in its reporting.

      Xenonphobic - 2011-02-14 17:23

      The figures from the study of priests that have been accused can't fully portray the real life figures if the catholic church actively protects its clergymen. Parishioners are more likely to take up their grievances with higher ranking members of the church before ,or instead of, reporting abuse to the police. If the Catholic church hushes things up and relocates the accused priest, then even if victims did go to the police cases would be extremely hard to prosecute. The Catholic church's strategy for dealing with abuse allegations is to close ranks and keep mouths shut, how do you then expect any researchers to be able to gather accurate data? The fact is, denying the base natural urge to reproduce or copulate is impossible. It has nothing to do with 'liberal' animosity towards the church's stance on anything. It has to do with the fact that giving complete trust to a sexually deprived man, or woman, to act unsupervised with children whom they have authority over is bound to lead to temptation and to the 'shepherd' straying from the path. If the church actively sought to eradicate paedophilia from it's halls it would either abolish the celibacy vow or actually punish the offenders. If clergymen keep getting away with slaps on the wrist then there is no real deterrent to stop them from abusing more children.

  • cptkid333 - 2011-02-14 12:13

    We tend to blame God and the church for the evils of our society, what we forget is, men have the privilidge of choice, and by having choice knowingly engage in sinful behaviour, often contrary to what God and the Bible in reality, represent. The blame should thus be placed with the people who commit such acts and anybody who fails to stand up against morality, we are 'intelligent' beings after all.

  • Hennie - 2011-02-20 16:50

    Can't these guys be transferred to IRAN as spies you know, what with their attire and a good word from Obama should quell any doubt from his fellow Moslems.

  • oxygen - 2011-03-06 09:28

    Well then, since no-one has the guts to imprison these despicable excuses for human beings - WHY are parents allowing their children anywhere NEAR them or even a church for that matter. Would anyone, or could anyone, expect a little dove to survive in a cage full of predator birds? When will everyone take off the blinkers of religion and protect their children as they should?

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