Defense fights charges in Phila. priest abuse case

Pictured (top row from left): Edward Avery, Charles Engelhardt, and James Brennan. (Bottom row from left) Teacher Bernard Shero and Monsignor William Lynn.

March 16, 2011 10:18:33 AM PDT
Three Catholic priests, a former priest and a former teacher were in court today to answer charges stemming from accusations of sexual abuse of children.

The five defendants arrived at court with dozens of supporters, but they also faced a newly filed charge of conspiracy.

The District Attorney is claiming the priests knew they could get away with sexually abusing children because they would be shielded by the archdiocese. "It was a conspiracy of silence and acquiescence to ensure the church's reputation and to avoid scandal," prosecutor Evangelia Manos said.

The priests, James Brennan, Edward Avery, Charles Englehardt and lay teacher Bernard Shero are accused of sexually abusing boys from their parish schools.

Monsignor William Lynn is accused of giving the priests access to minors by moving them from one parish to another when allegations surfaced.

When Action News asked Father Brennan outside the courthouse if he had anything to say, he replied, "No, nothing, thank you."

Father Brennan's defense team accused the D.A. of tacking on the conspiracy charge to create a Philadelphia link among the defendants because Monsignor Lynn worked for the archdiocese here.

Brennan is charged with crimes that allegedly occurred outside the city.

"There's no agreement, there's no conspiracy. Any third grader knows you can't have a conspiracy without an agreement and nothing happened in Philadelphia," defense attorney Charles Peruto Jr. said.

The D.A. is also asking the judge to disqualify some defense lawyers being paid by the archdiocese, claiming a conflict of interest.

"There's no doubt about the archdiocese paying our legal fees. It's quite proper in this case, so, I don't think there's a conflict, but we'll deal with it," Lynn's defense attorney Thomas Bergstrom said.

All five defendants will be back in court next Friday for round two of this high stakes bout of pretrial maneuvering.