PHILADELPHIA -- Four Philadelphia-area priests arrested last month on charges of sexually abusing or endangering minors were in court for the first time Monday, sitting silently while their lawyers clashed with prosecutors and a judge over the charges' validity and who was paying defense fees.
None of those issues was resolved in the 75-minute hearing before an exasperated Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes. Instead, she ordered the defendants and their lawyers to submit written arguments on the outstanding issues and return March 25 for another hearing.
Judge Hughes also left unresolved until then a defense request for a preliminary hearing on the charges, a move that could force prosecutors to disclose some of their evidence and prove that the case is worthy of a trial.
Three of the clerics are accused of sexually assaulting boys in the area in the 1990s, as is a fourth defendant, a former Catholic school teacher.
The fifth defendant, Mgsr. William Lynn, 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. His prosecution is believed to be the first time in the nation that authorities have charged a ranking church official for endangering children by protecting and enabling abusive priests.
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.
Although short on substance, Monday's hearing didn't lack for theatrics.
Before a courtroom packed with media representatives, at least six priests and other supporters, the judge openly seethed at one point when she heard that one defendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, had paid for a private attorney and hoped to be reimbursed by the archdiocese. Judge Hughes said she had assigned a court-appointed lawyer for Father Brennan during the grand-jury investigation because he came to her "in tears" to say he had no money to defend himself.
She ordered him to stand and explain himself. "You lied to me," Judge Hughes thundered.
One of Father Brennan's attorneys, A. Charles Peruto Jr., insisted that the priest had only found the money -- a loan from his brother -- after the grand jury investigation. When Father Brennan struggled to explain what was going on, Mr. Peruto told the judge that the priest had misspoken about his finances because he was so nervous. "He's trembling back there," Mr. Peruto said.
Father Brennan, 47, is accused of raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996, when the priest was on leave from his teaching assignment at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Delaware County. His lawyers are challenging the charge, in part because they say a Philadelphia grand jury had no jurisdiction to charge Father Brennan for crimes that it alleges occurred in Chester and Bucks counties.
Prosecutors countered late last week by filing a new charge against Father Brennan, alleging that his assault was part of conspiracy involving the Philadelphia-based leaders of the diocese. They also said they will pursue conspiracy charges against Father Brennan's co-defendants, Charles Englehardt and Edward V. Avery, who they say forced a fifth-grade altar boy to perform oral sex on them in the sacristy when both were posted at St. Jerome parish in Northeast Philadelphia in 1998 and 1999.
Mr. 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. Father 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.
A former teacher at St. Jerome's school, Bernard Shero, is charged with raping the same boy in the fall of 1999. Mr. 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. The victim came forward with the allegations against all three men two years ago.
Father Brennan is believed to be in a secluded residential program for sexually abusive priests.
Mgsr. Lynn, 60, served as Secretary of Clergy for the archdiocese between 1992 and 2004, and was responsible for recommending and managing assignments for priests throughout the region. Since 2004, he has been pastor of St. Joseph parish in Downingtown. His lawyers, Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy, are being paid by the archdiocese.
Monday's hearing came six days after the archdiocese suspended 21 priests and began re-examining old accusations against them involving sex abuse or inappropriate behavior around minors.