Editorial: Suspected Pedophile Clergy Still Flying under Radar

The Daily Times
January 14, 2013

For more than a decade now, since a Boston priest was convicted in 2002 of molesting a child, awareness of clerical sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church has been expanding nationwide.

Residents of Delaware County, one of five counties in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, were rudely awakened by the results of two Philadelphia grand jury investigations. The first grand jury report, spearheaded by former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, identified 63 priests who had allegedly abused children as far back as the late 1940s, at least 43 of whom had connections to Delaware County. It also revealed the church hierarchy’s disturbing practice of reassigning accused abusers to new, unsuspecting parishes where they could feasibly victimize more children. None of the suspected pedophile priests could be prosecuted because the Pennsylvania statute of limitations had expired.

In 2006 that statute was expanded and a second grand jury investigation, launched by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, resulted in the arrest of two priests, a defrocked priest and a Catholic school lay teacher. Also arrested was the Rev. Monsignor William Lynn for allegedly allowing suspected pedophiles to have continued access to children by not turning them over to civil authorities when he was secretary for clergy under former Philadelphia archbishop, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Lynn, who denied the charges, became the highest-ranking U.S. Roman Catholic church official convicted in connection with child abuse cases when a jury found him guilty last June of endangering an altar boy at St. Jerome parish in Philadelphia in the late 1990s. The fifth grader was allegedly abused by three of the suspects uncovered in the second grand jury investigation. One of them, Edward V. Avery of Haverford, a defrocked priest, pleaded guilty to the charge just days before his trial began.

The trial for the boy’s other two alleged abusers, ex-teacher Bernard G. Shero and the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, began in Philadelphia last week. They have pleaded not guilty. Soon after the suspects were arrested in February 2011, the Daily Times learned that Engelhardt, who had been ordered by archdiocesan officials to leave his position as parochial vicar of Resurrection of Our Lord parish in Northeast Philadelphia after they received an abuse allegation against him and turned it over to the district attorney in February 2009, was still on site at the parish nearly two years later.

“It came to our attention in late December 2010 that Father Engelhardt had been doing office work at the parish. He should not have been. The archdiocese intervened and it ended,” an archdiocesan spokeswoman told the Daily Times in February 2011.

At last report Engelhardt was living at a Franciscan community residence supervised by a religious superior.

That was not the case with a Franciscan friar accused of sexually abusing a child at a Derry, N.H., parish in the late 1980s. Michael Ledoux denied the allegation but in 2003, Francisan officials found the allegation credible and reached a financial settlement with the alleged victim and agreed that Ledoux would reside in a Franciscan facility for retired clergy and would not leave without being accompanied by a priest. Instead, Ledoux ended up having access to children at Widener University in Chester where he was dean of the school of education before he abruptly resigned last July when university officials learned of the sexual abuse allegations and told him he would be suspended while they investigated.

Because Ledoux had never been prosecuted criminally, the sexual abuse allegations against him never surfaced in background checks. He is a vivid example of what happens when suspects of any crime are not turned over to the proper authorities. While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops started requiring hierarchy to turn priests suspected of sexually abusing children over to law enforcement officials in 2002, there are hundreds of suspected pedophile priests across the country who pre-dated the edict. They continue to have access to children because church officials chose to handle their cases “internally.” And, as illustrated in the cases of Engelhardt and Ledoux, some times even the lamest sanctions are not enforced by their religious superiors. These suspected pedophiles continue to fly under the radar.


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