Catholic abuse scandal reignites in Philadelphia
The 2005 report detailed dozens of cases of sexual abuse of children by clergy over many decades; the new report brings criminal indictments for the first time.
Charged with rape, assault and other felonies related to minors, as recommended by the grand jury, are former archdiocesan priest Edward V. Avery, 68, of Haverford; Father Charles Engelhardt, 64, of Wyndmoor and an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales; an archdiocesan priest, Father James J. Brennan, 47, of Linfield; and former lay teacher, Bernard Shero, 48, of Bristol (Pennsylvania). All four were arrested on 10 February.
Msgr. William J. Lynn, 60, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown, was charged on two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The charges stem, according to the report, from Msgr. Lynn's conduct as archdiocesan secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. In that role, he was responsible for recommending the assignment of priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
He is believed to be the first high-ranking diocesan official indicted under a criminal statute in the U.S. for charges related to the sexual abuse scandal that came to light in 2002. Commentators think his arrest could have implications nationally. CNN Senior Vatican Analyst John Allen said: "This is apparently the first time that a Catholic leader has been charged criminally for the cover-up as opposed to the abuse itself. It sends a shot across the bow for bishops and other diocesan officials in other parts of the country, who have to wonder now if they've got criminal exposure, too."
Because of the volume of evidence collected by the grand jury, which includes testimony of some 45 witnesses, Williams said a preliminary hearing for the charges will be waived. No trial date has been set.
Dozens of cases are detailed in the report, each more appalling than the last. A 10-year-old boy was passed among two priests and a Catholic school teacher, who raped the child. According to grand jury testimony, one of the alleged molester priests told the boy that "God loved him" as he forced the boy to have oral sex in a church sacristy.
In the aftermath of the abuse, the grand jury report describes the suicide of a young victim, "Ben," in Bristol. It describes the attempted suicide of another victim, "Mark" in Newtown Township. The report states that the sexual abuse of children in the archdiocese was "known, tolerated and hidden by high church officials, including the Cardinal himself."
Since the priest sex scandals first broke in Boston in 2002, eight U.S. dioceses have declared bankruptcy in order to avoid paying damages to victims. The latest, Milwaukee, declared bankruptcy last month, where the scandal burst under the "leadership" of the aptly named Cardinal Rembert Weakland.
Weakland was accused of shredding documents related to priest sexual abuse cases. He called abuse victims "squealers." He also closed parish schools for lack of money. Among the reasons for the cash shortage was that Weakland had used $450,000 to pay hush money to his boyfriend who had threatened to blackmail the archbishop about their affair.
In a series of statements, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia categorically denied that any archdiocesan priests with "an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them" remained in ministry.
But on Wednesday he announced that an investigation will be launched into as many as 37 priests identified in a grand jury report as remaining in "active ministry with credible allegations of child sexual abuse." He also announced that three priests were placed on administrative leave pending a review.
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