Former Phila. Priest Pleads Guilty to Sex-abuse Charge
By Amaris Elliott-Engel
March 23, 2012
|Edward Avery |
The landscape of the trial of a Catholic Church official accused of endangering children by exposing them to allegedly abusive priests changed Thursday after one of the official's co-defendants admitted in court to sexually abusing a 10-year-old.
The former priest pled guilty to the first-degree felony of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse for sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy. The priest also pled guilty to the third-degree felony of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children for conspiring with church officials to conceal his history of sexual abuse from Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia parishioners.
Defendant Edward Avery was immediately sentenced to serve 30 to 60 months in prison by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina as part of a negotiated plea deal with prosecutors. Avery must report to prison 9 a.m. April 2.
Whether Avery has agreed to cooperate against two co-defendants who are set to go on trial Monday was not on the record, the judge said.
Criminal defense attorney Michael J. Engle, of the Law Offices of Michael J. Engle and who was not involved in the case, said that he would be surprised if Avery ended up testifying in the case.
If Avery was a cooperating witness, his sentencing would most likely have been kept open to ensure that he would still give beneficial testimony to the prosecution before he would derive any benefit from the cooperation, Engle said.
According to the statement of facts read by prosecutor Patrick Blessington, Avery's guilty plea encompasses his act of engaging in oral sex with a 10-year-old in the spring of 1999 while he was a priest at St. Jerome Parish in Philadelphia.
Blessington also said that Avery's guilty plea encompasses that he, co-defendant Monsignor William Lynn and other archdiocese officials acted in concert with Avery "with a common purpose to conceal Avery's known acts of sexual abuse of [another] minor [than the one Avery abused in 1999]" so Avery could remain in ministry and in contact with altar servers and other children without the knowledge of the parishioners.
The abuse of this separate youth was reported to Lynn in 1992 when he was the secretary for clergy and responsible for reviewing reports of sexual abuse by members of the priesthood, Blessington said.
The youth reported that he was abused by Avery after assisting him with a disc jockey job in West Philadelphia, Blessington said.
Avery was not supervised when he interacted with parish children, including altar servers, at St. Jerome's and he continued to perform as a disc jockey with the knowledge of Lynn and the archdiocese, Blessington said.
Lynn is believed to be the first Catholic Church official to be charged with endangering the welfare of children sexually abused by members of the priesthood.
Lynn served in a human resources role, including responding to reports of sexual abuse by priests, as the archdiocese's secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004.
Avery's guilty plea is not likely to change Lynn's defense, Engle said.
"In this particular case the defense strategy would not focus on the fact that no priests had actually abused any of these children, I think the issue for Monsignor Lynn is what did he know or what instructions was he permitted to give ... and whether he knowingly put somebody" in danger, Engle said.
Earlier this week, Sarmina ruled Avery's attorney could cross-examine the priest's admitted victim on whether he was motivated to make up abuse allegations because he was expelled in the ninth grade from his archdiocesan high school.
Avery's counsel, Michael Wallace, said his theory was that the admitted victim made allegedly false accusations out of motivation to get monetary damages from the civil lawsuit, a desire to get back at Archbishop Ryan High School because of his expulsion in the ninth grade, and to give an alternative reason for why, Wallace said in court, he has a substance-abuse and criminal history.
Avery said in court that his decision to enter a guilty plea was not influenced by what his attorney told him about the legality of the evidence or the strength of the evidence.
The judge warned Avery that, if he appeals his guilty plea and his sentence, she could sentence him to an increased sentence, including because he helped select the jury for next week's trial and it would be a burden on prosecutors to have to retry Avery in a separate proceeding.
John Donahue was Avery's counsel during his guilty plea.
Lynn is charged with endangering the welfare of both the youth Avery admitted to abusing and another youth whom Lynn's co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan, is accused of sexually abusing.
The same youth Avery admitted abusing also has said he was abused by another priest and a Catholic school lay teacher whose trials were severed out from Lynn's trial.
There is a gag order in effect in the case.
Amaris Elliott-Engel can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter @AmarisTLI. •