Priests' supervisor charged with endangering abused youths

A monsignor who formerly headed the Archdiocese of Philadelpia's Office for Clergy was charged with two felonies today for not protecting children from sex-abusing priests he allegedly knew were a danger. In a stunning development, a new grand jury report assailed the current assignments of 37 priests for whom there is allegedly substantial evidence of sexual misconduct, and also said that "for the moment," there would be no criminal charges against Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia from 1988 to 2003.Cardinal Justin Rigali, the present archbishop, issued a statement saying that he was not prepared to comment on the report. "It is my intention to consider carefully and take very seriously any observations and recommendations of this Grand Jury," he said in the statement. "I also welcome the opportunity for ongoing collaboration with the Philadelphia District Attorneys Office in the vital work of protecting children."According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, District Attorney Seth Williams said Monsignor William Lynn was charged with endangering the welfare of two children. It continues:

Williams also announced the Revs. Charles Engelhardt, 64, and Edward Avery, 68, and Bernard Shero, 47, a former 6th grade teacher at St. Jerome's School in Northeast Philadelphia, had been charged with raping and sexually assaulting the same boy in the parish between 1998, when he was 10 years old, and 2000.

Another priest, the Rev. James Brennan, 47, is charged with raping and sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1996 ...

Williams said Lynn, who was the Archdiocese's Secretary of the Clergy from 1992 to 2004, "supervised two of the abusers . . . knew they were dangerous and chose to expose them to new victims."

A grand jury report issued in 2005 had accused the archdiocese of an "immoral coverup," but lamented that it wasn't possible to press charges because of the statute of limitations. But in a report released today, a new grand jury said more recent information had been discovered.Based on this, it said, "There is no doubt that Monsignor Lynns refusal to curb Avery and Brennan led directly to the rape of Billy and Mark," pseudonyms for two boys.The report then explains why Cardinal Bevilacqua has not been indicted:

That leaves us with a difficult dilemma: Cardinal Bevilacqua. The Cardinals top lawyer appeared before the grand jury and testified that the Cardinal, at 87, suffers from dementia and cancer. We are not entirely sure what to believe on that point. We do know, however, that over the years Cardinal Bevilacqua was kept closely advised of Monsignor Lynns activities, and personally authorized many of them. On the other hand, we do not have good evidence about the Cardinals actions specifically as to Father Avery and Father Brennan, the two priests whose treatment forms the basis for the endangering charge against Lynn. The documents clearly show what Lynn knew in these two cases and what he did or didnt do about it. But that direct link is lacking as to Cardinal Bevilacqua. On balance, we cannot conclude that a successful prosecution can be brought against the Cardinal at least for the moment.

According to the report, sexual abuse continues to be a serious problem in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It says:

The procedures implemented by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the Archdiocese itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers dozens of them, we believe remain on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey.

It concludes:

A final word. In light of the Archdioceses reaction to the last grand jury report, we expect that some may accuse us of anti-Catholic bias for speaking of these painful matters. We are not church-haters. Many of us are church-goers. We did not come looking for scandal, but we cannot close our eyes to the powerful evidence we heard. We call the church to task, to fix what needs fixing.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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