Five charged in church sex scandal February 17, 2011|By David O'Reilly, Inquirer Staff Writer A Philadelphia grand jury on Thursday brought felony charges against a former high-ranking official of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for "purposefully" shielding sexually abusive priests and endangering children in the late 1990s, and said it was uncertain whether retired archbishop Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was culpable as well. "We cannot conclude that a successful prosecution can be brought against the Cardinal - at least for the moment," the panel wrote in its report. It was the second time in less than six years that a grand jury excoriated the archdiocese for its mishandling of sex-abuse cases, again bringing home the scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church worldwide for more than a decade. The new grand jury report flatly stated that even the current leadership under Cardinal Justin Rigali has not lived up to its promise to protect children by weeding out predatory clergy, keeping as many as 41 priests "in ministry despite solid, credible allegations of abuse." The panel issued two felony charges against Msgr. William Lynn, who handled all priest personnel issues, including abuse accusations, as Bevilacqua's secretary of the Office for Clergy from 1992 to 2004. Since then, he has been pastor of St. Joseph Church in Downingtown. Lynn, 60, is not accused of physically abusing minors but of turning a blind eye to complaints about three priests and a parochial-school teacher who then raped two altar boys in 1996 and 1998 at St. Jerome's Church in Northeast Philadelphia. The four men also were indicted on felony charges Thursday and, like Lynn, arrested. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office said Lynn is believed to be the first member of a Catholic diocesan hierarchy in the United States charged criminally for his alleged role in concealing or enabling clergy abuse of children. He faces 14 years in prison if convicted on both third-degree felony charges. "Let this be a clarion call," said District Attorney Seth Williams, himself a Catholic, at a news conference Thursday. "I love my church, but I detest the criminal behavior of priests who abuse, or allow the abuse, of children." Issued under then-District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, the 2005 grand jury report dealt harshly with both Lynn and Bevilacqua, accusing them of an "immoral cover-up" in abuse cases generally. However, neither was charged with any crimes. The current indictment against Lynn hinges on fresh charges by the two rape victims, identified only as "Billy" and "Mark," who came forward only in 2009. The new report noted that Bevilacqua, now 87, "was kept closely advised of Monsignor Lynn's activities, and personally authorized many of them." However, the jury had found no "good evidence" that the cardinal had direct knowledge of the incidents at St. Jerome's. Bishop Daniel Thomas, an auxiliary bishop who oversees the archdiocese's communications office, said Thursday that church officials had not had an opportunity to review the 124-page report and could not immediately respond to any of it. Ads by Google Delaware 55+ CommunityLow Real Estate Tax, No Sales Tax. Live Mortgage Free for 12 months! www.HeritageShores.com Later in the day, however, Rigali issued a letter to all 267 parishes in the five-county archdiocese denying the grand jury's allegation that dozens of priests with credible abuse allegations against them were still in active ministry. "I assure all the faithful that there are no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them," the cardinal's letter stated. Jeff Lindy, an attorney for Lynn, said his client was a victim of excessive zeal on the part of the District Attorney's Office and was innocent of all charges. Lynn will plead not guilty, and the archdiocese has not asked him to step down, he said. According to the grand jury report, Lynn was aware of credible abuse allegations against the three priests, but did not bar them from contact with minors, thus enabling four rapes of the two boys. The accused include the Rev. Charles F. Engelhardt, 64, an Oblate priest most recently a parochial vicar at the Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord in the city's Rhawnhurst section. He is charged with orally sodomizing a 10-year-old altar boy in 1998 in St. Jerome's sacristy. Despite the boy's resistance, Engelhardt allegedly told the Rev. Edward Avery, a diocesan priest then assigned to St. Jerome's, about the assault. Weeks later, Avery, now 68 and defrocked, assaulted the boy in the same way, according to the report. Bernard G. Shero, the boy's sixth-grade teacher at St. Jerome's parish school, allegedly learned from one or both of the priests about the assaults and one day offered the boy a ride home. Instead, the grand jury said, Shero, now 48, orally and anally raped him in his car and then left him to walk home.