Today I announce the results of a new grand jury investigation of clergy sexual abuse, and the arrest of three priests and a parochial school teacher for raping and assaulting two young boys in their care. The grand jury has also voted to charge another priest who supervised two of the abusers, who knew they were dangerous, but who chose to expose them to new victims.
As a Roman Catholic myself, this is not a happy thing for me to have to do. The criminal acts that occurred here are not representative of my religion. They are the bad acts of individual men. I recognize all the good that the Roman Catholic Church has done and continues to do in the world. But I am sworn to uphold the law, and I will do what is necessary to protect children.
As you know, this is the second time a Philadelphia grand jury has investigated evidence of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese. There have been many changes for the better since the original investigation. Victims are receiving counseling and support, and the church is reporting some abusers to law enforcement, something that never happened in the past. This investigation, in fact, began as a result of reports received from the Archdiocese. The church is to be commended for these improvements.
As the grand jury investigation reveals, however, further improvements are still needed. The grand jury found that victims have been misled into believing that their statements to Archdiocese representatives are confidential, that victims have been pressed to sign releases of their psychiatric and other records, and that investigations by church employees have been conducted in a manner that was not evenhanded. There must be more separation between the things the church does in the name of helping victims and the things the church does in an effort to protect itself from financial liability and ill repute.
Even more troubling, 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.
Above all, victims of sexual abuse need to know that they can and should contact law enforcement directly. You do not need to go through the Archdiocese first. We will conduct our own, independent investigation, regardless of the church’s decision about how to handle the case.
Following the recommendations of the grand jury, the District Attorney’s Office today charged the three priests and the teacher with rape, indecent sexual assault and other criminal charges.
Charles Engelhardt, 64, an Oblate priest, is accused of orally sodomizing and molesting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1998 in the sacristy at St. Jerome Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. Edward Avery, 68, an Archdiocesan priest who was defrocked in 2006, is charged with the same offenses against the same boy. And this boy’s sixth-grade teacher at St. Jerome School, 48-year-old Bernard Shero, is accused of orally and anally sodomizing the then-11-year-old in the back of the teacher’s car.
James Brennan, 47, an Archdiocesan priest, is accused of forcing his penis into the buttocks of a 14-year-old former parishioner when he was in the priest’s bed. At the time, the summer of 1996, Father Brennan was on leave from Cardinal O’Hara High School. In 1997, he was returned to active ministry and assigned to St. Jerome Parish.
A word about Monsignor Lynn, the former Secretary of Clergy for the Archdiocese who was not himself an abuser but is being charged today for knowingly endangering the children he was supposed to defend. The previous grand jury concluded that prosecution of high-level Archdiocese officials would be inappropriate on the evidence then available. The primary problem was the statute of limitations. In addition, in the absence of evidence that the actions of these officials led to the abuse of any juveniles who could be identified at that time, it would be difficult to meet our statutory burden of proving that the officials had a supervisory role in relation to the victims.
This time, however, we have far more specific evidence, within the statute of limitations, directly linking Monsignor Lynn’s actions to the abuse of two new victims. He had all the information he needed to protect them. Instead, he lied to parishioners and went out of his way to put known abusers into contact with adolescents, resulting in assaults against at least two more young boys. Let this be a clarion call. This behavior will not be tolerated.
I love my church but I detest the criminal behavior of priests who abuse or allow the abuse of children. I know ultimately they will be judged by higher authority. For now, it is my responsibility as the elected District Attorney, of all the citizens of Philadelphia, to hold them accountable.