PHILADELPHIA — In a blistering courtroom session on Friday, the judge overseeing the case involving priests accused in the sexual abuse scandal in the Philadelphia Archdiocese granted the prosecution’s request to bypass a preliminary hearing and scheduled arraignment for April 15.
At that time, the accused — two Roman Catholic priests, one former priest, a former parochial school teacher and a monsignor — are expected to plead not guilty. Given the city’s backlog of cases, any trial would probably not begin for at least a year.
The judge, Renee Cardwell Hughes, also agreed to the district attorney’s belated request to charge all five with conspiracy. The priests and the schoolteacher are already accused of rape; the monsignor, William Lynn, the highest-ranking official to be accused of a crime in the three-decade-long abuse scandal in the United States, is suspected of covering up rape by the priests and is charged with child endangerment.
At one point Friday, Judge Hughes, of the Court of Common Pleas, ordered Monsignor Lynn, 60, to stand and take an oath to tell the truth. She wanted to make sure he understood the consequences of having the archdiocese pay for his lawyers. In a riveting 20 minutes of questioning, she told him that this could jeopardize his ability to act in his own best interest, especially if he is implicating other church officials to help his defense, and would prevent him from claiming during any appeal that he was not properly represented. She even offered to get him a public defender, at taxpayer expense. He could face a maximum of 28 years in prison.
The monsignor, wearing a black suit and white priestly collar, said repeatedly that he understood the consequences and still wanted to keep the arrangement.
Judge Hughes is not likely to be the trial judge, to the relief of some of the defense lawyers, who have said she favors the prosecution and who engaged in shouting matches with her during Friday’s two-hour session. The judge erupted in fury several times, accusing some of the defense lawyers of attacking her integrity and telling them to “shut up.”
“Well, snapdoodle!” she said at one point to a defense lawyer who challenged her. At another point, Richard DeSipio, one of the defense lawyers, yelled out that the district attorney’s office was “anti-Catholic” and had attacked him. “Attacked you?” Judge Hughes said. “You attacked me.”
Judge Hughes imposed an order of silence on everyone involved in the case, including District Attorney Seth Williams, who was not present.
“I don’t want tweets, I don’t want Facebook, I don’t want I.M.’s, I don’t want any communication,” she said through clenched teeth.
Philadelphia Priests Accused by Grand Jury of Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up
New York Times, 10 February 2011 by JON HURDLE
PHILADELPHIA — A grand jury on Thursday accused the Archdiocese of Philadelphia of failing to stop the sexual abuse of children more than five years after a grand jury report documented abuse by more than 50 priests.
The new report said a senior church official charged with investigating allegations of sexual abuse by priests had in fact allowed some of those accused to remain in posts that gave them continued access to children. It charged him with endangering the welfare of minors and accused three priests and a teacher of raping two boys between 1996 and 1999.
“By no means do we believe that these were the only two parishioners who were abused during this period,” the report said.
At least 37 priests who are subject to “substantial evidence of abuse” are still in roles that bring them into contact with children, the new report said, and 10 of those have been in place since before 2005, when the last grand jury made its allegations.
The Rev. Edward Avery, 68, and the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64, were charged with the rape and indecent assault of a 10-year-old boy in St. Jerome Parish in Northeast Philadelphia in 1998 and 1999. The teacher, Bernard Shero, 48, was accused of assaulting the same boy in 2000.
The Rev. James Brennan, 47, was accused of assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1996. All three priests were under arrest on Thursday.
The report also charged Msgr. William Lynn, secretary of clergy in the archdiocese under former Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, with endangering the welfare of children by allowing “dangerous” priests to remain in place. Monsignor Lynn was responsible for investigating abuse allegations from 1992 to 2004.
“The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again,” the grand jury said.
Monsignor Lynn faces a maximum of 14 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
In a statement issued late on Thursday, Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, rejected the report’s assertion that there were active priests who had been credibly accused of abuse.
“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,” he said.
The report accused the archdiocese of lacking urgency in its efforts to eradicate sexual abuse by its priests.
It said a panel looking into the allegations dismissed charges against a priest by two independent victims, saying their evidence lacked credibility.
“These are simply not the actions of an institution that is serious about ending sexual abuse of children,” the report said.
The 124-page report, which contains graphic descriptions of abuse of the 9- and 10-year-old boys, said the grand jury decided “reluctantly” not to press charges against Cardinal Bevilacqua, who stepped down in 2003 after 15 years as archbishop, even though he worked closely with Monsignor Lynn, because it did not have enough evidence.
In 2005, a grand jury report accused the church of an “immoral cover-up” that had exposed hundreds of children to sexual assault. That report recommended no criminal charges.
If convicted on all charges, the priests and the teacher each face a maximum sentence of 67 years in prison, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office said.
Burton A. Rose, a lawyer for the teacher, Mr. Shero, declined to comment on the case. Lawyers for the other defendants did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.