Five defendants, four Catholic priests from the Philadelphia diocese and a former schoolteacher, pleaded not guilty to the abuse, or allowing the abuse of altar boys, in court in a notorious Philadelphia child abuse case. yesterday.
The group including their attorneys then quietly and quickly left the court without speaking to the press, as the judge had instituted a gag order.
Four of the five defendants, excluding Fr. James Brennan (47) were present in court. He had asked to be excused having previously pleaded not guilty. He was charged with raping a 14-year-old boy at his Chester County apartment in 1996.
Rev. Charles Engelhardt (64), defrocked priest Edward Avery (68) and former Catholic schoolteacher Bernard Shero (48) are all charged with raping another boy from 1998 to 2000. When the ordeal began the boy was only 10-years-old.
Monsignor William Lynn (60) made history by being the first Catholic official in the United States to be charged with endangering children by transferring accused priests instead of punishing them and removing them from their positions.
Outside the court protestors had plenty to say. They held aloft a placard reading "Hold Sexual Predators Accountable - Support Bill 832 & 878", referring to legislation which if passed would lift the statute of limitations to give all victims of sexual abuse access to the court system.
Speaking to Philly.com Dan Bartley, the president of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic church-reform group, said "The situation here in Philadelphia is deeply disturbing, and it's further proof that the bishops are incapable of protecting our children and policing themselves."
Bartley called on the church to stop fighting the two bills. If introduced the bills would mean disciplinary action against church officials and employees of the church. It would also mean effective audits of priest's personnel files and also change in structure for victim assistance.
Speaking about Monsignor Lynn, Bartley said "Any person - Catholic or non-Catholic - who reads the grand-jury report cannot be other than absolutely appalled by his behavior and the fact that he knew that this was going on."