As practicing Catholics, it is our responsibility to read the 2011 Grand Jury Report on clergy abuse. Please read it. Pray on it. And, then most importantly, I ask you to act on it. No real solution can be found until the entire Church addresses this issue. Pedophilia can and does occur anywhere. What doesn’t happen everywhere is the cover up – which has taken on global proportions.
The laity must stand up to protect their children and fight for their faith. If you sit in the pews silently, then you enable the cover up to continue. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and hope the hierarchy handles this. They’ve proven they can’t or won’t. For evidence of this, please read the 2005 report and ask yourself what they did between the two reports. Below is the opening of the 2011 Grand Jury Report. Catholics4Change will be posting excerpts as a series.
In September 2003, a grand jury of local citizens released a report detailing a sad history of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. That abuse was known, tolerated, and hidden by high church officials, up to and including the Cardinal himself. The previous grand jury was frustrated that it could not charge either the abusers or their protectors in the church, because the successful cover-up of the abuse resulted in the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Now, measures taken in response to the previous report have led to new information about more recent abuse, which this grand jury was empaneled to investigate. The fact that we received that information, and from the church itself, is some sign of progress; and this time there will be charges. The present grand jury, however, is frustrated to report that much has not changed. The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again. The procedures implemented by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the Archdiocese itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers – dozens of them, we believe – remain on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey. (C4C editor note: Despite stating that no abusive priests were in active ministry, the Archdiocese removed over 20 priests after the report was released. Investigations into those cases are ongoing.)
Billy and Mark
This grand jury case began because two men came forward, while still young, to say what was done to them as children. By no means do we believe that these are the only two parishioners who were abused during this period. It remains an extraordinarily difficult thing for adults to tell authorities that they were taken advantage of, in the most intimate, shameful ways, by people they trusted. Their stories must be told, however, because they reveal a great deal about the current treatment of sexual abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Twelve years ago, Billy was a 10-year-old altar boy in the fifth grade at St. Jerome School in Philadelphia. “Billy” is a pseudonym; he is still reluctant to name himself publicly, although he knows he will have to do so soon. While alone with him in the sacristy, Father Charles Engelhardt began to show Billy pornographic magazines. Eventually, the priest directed Billy to take off his clothes, and to put his penis in the priest’s mouth. Then the priest reversed positions, until he ejaculated on the boy.
After that, Billy was in effect passed around to Engelhardt’s colleagues. Father Edward Avery undressed with the boy, told him that God loved him, had him engage in oral intercourse, and ejaculated on him. Next was the turn of Bernard Shero, a teacher in the school. Shero offered Billy a ride home, but instead stopped at a park, told Billy they were “going to have some fun,” took off the boy’s clothes, orally and anally raped him, and then made him walk the rest of the way home.
That was the beginning of a longer journey. Billy stopped talking with friends and started smoking marijuana. He would often gag and vomit for reasons the doctors could not discern. He checked books out of the library about sexual abuse. By high school he was taking pills, and then heroin.
The second victim, Mark, was only nine when he first met Father James Brennan, a parochial vicar at St. Andrew Church in Newtown. Father Brennan became a family “friend” who often visited the house. Mark, though, was the subject of special attention from the priest, who persistently wrestled with the boy, rubbed his back and shoulders, and openly brought up sex talk.
When Mark was 14, in 1996, Father Brennan was finally ready to make his move. He arranged with Mark’s mother for a “sleepover” at an apartment the priest was renting. Once he had the boy there, Brennan showed him pornographic pictures on his computer, bragged about his penis size, and insisted that Mark sleep together with him in his bed. Then he lay down behind the boy and put his penis into the boy’s buttocks.
Mark told his parents what happened, and they confronted Brennan, but he denied it and they believed the priest. From that point, Mark suffered depression, dramatic weight loss, and drug and alcohol addiction. Ultimately he attempted suicide.
For what they did, Father Avery, Father Engelhardt, Father Brennan, and teacher Shero will all be charged with rape and related offenses.