Ex-Philly priest pleads guilty to sex-abuse charge

March 22, 2012 - 6:17 PM
Priest Abuse Trial

FILE - In this undated file photo released by the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, Edward V. Avery is shown. Avery, a former priest charged with raping boys in the mid-1990s has plead guilty to sex abuse charges on Thursday, March 22, 2012. Avery, 69, pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child. He was immediately sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison and was ordered to surrender within 10 days. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, File)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A defrocked Philadelphia priest pleaded guilty Thursday to sexually abusing an altar boy in a church sacristy, days before he was to go on trial with two other priests in a landmark child sex-abuse case.

Edward Avery, 69, known for his moonlighting work as a disc jockey, pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child. He was immediately sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison.

"In the end, every human being proceeds on this earth as a flawed human being. Father Avery has made some horrible mistakes in his life," defense lawyer John P. Donohue said at the brief hearing.

The charges stem from Avery's abuse of an altar boy at St. Jerome's Parish in northeast Philadelphia in 1999, when Avery was 57 and the boy 10.

Two other priests are still set to go on trial Monday. They include Monsignor William Lynn, the first U.S. church official ever charged with endangering children for allegedly failing to oust accused predators from the priesthood or report them to police.

Avery was at St. Jerome's despite a credible 1992 complaint that led him to undergo psychological testing at an archdiocesan-run psychiatric hospital, according to a 2005 grand jury report. He was pulled from his parish, put on a so-called "health leave" and then reassigned in 1993, the report said.

Avery's accuser told authorities in recent years that he had been raped by two priests and his sixth-grade teacher at St. Jerome's.

A second grand jury report on priest abuse issued last year charged all three of them with sexual assault and alleged two attacks by Avery.

"When Mass was ended, Fr. (Edward) Avery took the fifth-grader into the sacristy, turned on the music, and ordered him to perform a 'striptease' for him. ... When they were both naked, the priest had the boy sit on his lap and kissed his neck and back, while saying to him that God loved him," the grand jury report. Oral sex and digital penetration followed, the report said.

Avery said little Thursday and offered no apology to the victim, who was not believed to be in court.

"It's something I have discussed and decided to do," said Avery, who has 10 days to report to prison.

His conspiracy plea could be important in the case against Lynn, the secretary of clergy in Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. Avery did not indicate Thursday whether he will testify against Lynn, and a gag order prevents lawyers from discussing the case. However, he agreed to a series of damaging facts about the archdiocese.

Avery agreed that Lynn and the archdiocese knew of the 1992 abuse complaint filed against him. The teen told Lynn that Avery had molested him after he helped the priest work as a DJ at a West Philadelphia nightclub.

Avery also acknowledged that he was never supervised when he later interacted with altar servers and parish children at St. Jerome's, and that the archdiocese knew he was still working as a disc jockey, which put him around young people.

Lynn, 61, is charged with two counts each of conspiracy and child endangerment. He faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted. Lynn has said he was following orders from the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and other superiors. Bevilacqua died this year, but his videotaped deposition could still be used at trial.

A second accuser alleges that the Rev. James Brennan, 48, assaulted him in 1996, when the boy was 14 and Brennan was on leave from the church after telling Bevilacqua he needed to deal with his own child-sexual abuse.

Both accusers in the case have criminal records and a history of drug addiction. Defense lawyers plan to attack their motives, arguing that they are out for money or want to explain away their troubled lives. That strategy frustrates Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"As someone said, you can't expect (them) to go through hell and come out like an angel," Blaine said.

Avery's accuser could still be called to testify against Lynn, and would seemingly need to testify in the later trial of his two other alleged molesters, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former teacher Bernard Shero. They are being tried separately because neither was an archdiocesan priest reporting to Lynn.

All four remaining defendants have pleaded not guilty.

About 500 Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. have been convicted of criminal sexual abuse through either guilty pleas or verdicts, according to Terry McKiernan, the founder of BishopAccountability.org. That's still a fraction of the suspected abusers in the church, he said.

"Very few have even faced criminal charges, obviously because of the archaic statute of limitations and, usually, the superb cover-up job that church officials have done for decades," McKiernan said.