Accused priests silent as they appear in court


Accused priestFour Philadelphia area priests arrested last month on charges of sexually abusing or endangering minors returned to court for the first time today, sitting silently while their lawyers clashed with prosecutors and a judge over the validity of the charges and who was paying the defense fees.

None of those issues were resolved in the 75-minute hearing before an exasperated Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes. Instead she ordered the defendants and their lawyers to submit written arguments on the outstanding issues return March 25 for another hearing.

Hughes also left unresolved until then a request by the defense for a preliminary hearing on the charges, a move that could force prosecutors to disclose some of their evidence and prove the case is worthy of a trial.

Three of the clerics, and a former Catholic school teacher, are accused of sexually assaulting boys in the area in the 1990s. The fifth defendant, Mgsr. William Lynn, the former Secretary of Clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, faces felony endangerment charges for allegedly concealing and enabling the crimes by placing the priests in positions that gave them easy access to minors.

The arrests coincided with the release of a scathing grand jury report accusing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia of failing to reform after an earlier clergy sex abuse scandal.

According to the criminal complaints against them, the Revs. Charles Englehardt and Edward V. Avery forced a fifth-grade altar boy to perform oral sex on them in the sacristy when both were posted at St. Jerome’s parish in Northeast Philadelphia in 1998 and 1999. A teacher at the school, Bernard Shero, allegedly raped the same boy in the fall of 1999. The victim came forward with the allegation two years ago.

A fourth defendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, 47, is accused of raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996, when Brennan was on leave from his teaching assignment at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Delaware County.

Avery, 68, a Haverford resident, was defrocked in 2006, based on a complaint from another altar boy who said the priest had molested him in the late 1970s. Englehardt, 64, remains a priest under the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and was last known to be living at a parish residence in Wyndmoor. Shero, a 48-year-old Bristol resident, is no longer a teacher. Court records say he tried to kill himself after the charges were announced. Brennan is believed to be in a secluded residential program for sexually abusive priests.

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