Philadelphia Inquirer - March 11, 2011
First accused of sexual abuse in 1976, priest suspended this week
By Jeremy Roebuck and Kathleen Brady Shea, Inquirer Staff Writers
In 1976, a 16-year-old boy told the dean at what was then Bishop John Neumann Catholic High School in South Philadelphia that his religion teacher - Msgr. Michael Flood - had molested him on more than 16 occasions that year, according to a continuing civil suit.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia took its first definitive action to address those allegations Tuesday.
Flood, 71, was among 21 priests suspended this week amid allegations of sexual abuse or other improper behavior with minors. He had been serving as pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Glenside.
But his case sheds light on what a Philadelphia grand jury has described as an ongoing pattern in which church leaders failed to properly investigate allegations of clerical misconduct.
Although archdiocesan leaders have known about the accusations against Flood since at least 2009, they have never opened their own independent investigation.
"They're only suspending him now because the grand-jury report exposed that they don't take their responsibility to children seriously," said Thomas S. Neuberger, an attorney representing the unnamed, now 48-year-old alleged victim in a civil suit against Flood. "This is just window dressing."
Neuberger declined to name his client, but offered to see if the man would be willing to talk about the case with a reporter. His client had not responded to that request by late Thursday.
A church spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on Flood's case. Archdiocesan officials have thus far declined to name or discuss any of the suspended priests.
The monsignor, who could not be reached Thursday, has repeatedly denied the allegations made by Neuberger's client and has openly discussed the case with his parishioners, asking them to pray for him and his accuser.
He has voluntarily agreed to refrain from unsupervised contact with youth until the suit is resolved, according to a 2009 statement.
"I'm a little chagrined that the archdiocese would succumb to pressure from the District Attorney's Office," his attorney James S. Green Sr. said. "I have total sympathy for true victims of abuse by anyone, but I think this action was precipitous and unfortunate and could not be based on anything brought to light so far in the case."
The civil suit - currently making its way through a Delaware Superior Court in Wilmington - stems from Flood's time as a religion teacher at Neumann.
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Avenging Altar Boy
By MAUREEN DOWD
The district attorney is burning a eucalyptus-spearmint candle on his desk.
“I think the press looks down upon the D.A. drinking Jack Daniels during the day,” R. Seth Williams says with a broad smile, “so I light my little stress-relief candle.”
It’s understandable if the former altar boy at St. Carthage in West Philly needs to light a votive. The 44-year-old Catholic, who still attends Mass with his family at the same church, now called St. Cyprian, is the first U.S. prosecutor to charge a church official for a sickeningly commonplace sin: Endangering children whom the Roman Catholic Church was supposed to protect by shuffling pedophile priests to different parishes where they could find fresh prey.
Williams, the first African-American elected district attorney in Pennsylvania, was an orphan given up by his unwed mother. He was put into two foster homes before he was adopted at 20 months old by a Catholic family.
“I grew up treating the hierarchy of the church kind of like rock stars,” he said in his 18th floor aerie, where he keeps a small iron crucifix and a cross fashioned from Palm Sunday fronds. “If you’re going to meet the cardinal, you’re supposed to kiss the guy’s ring, all this stuff. But it is what it is. I wish I knew the Latin translation for that.
“There’s no get-out-of-jail-free card for raping, sodomizing, groping, doing anything wrong to kids.”
Msgr. William J. Lynn, who served from 1992 to 2004 as the secretary of clergy reviewing sexual abuse cases for then-Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, appeared in court Monday. He is charged with felonies for allegedly helping the cardinal cover up molesters and transferring them to other parishes.
“It was a conspiracy of silence to ensure the church’s reputation and to avoid scandal,” said Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos.
Monsignor Lynn, a round, ruddy man in black priest’s garb, sat silently in court behind his two lawyers — paid by the archdiocese — as a cheering squad of priests and parishioners watched.
Lynn’s co-defendants sat beside him: a rabbity-looking Rev. James Brennan, 47, charged with raping a 14-year-old boy named Mark in 1996 in his apartment; and the unholy alliance of a priest, the sepulchral Charles Engelhardt, 64, a defrocked priest, Edward Avery, 68, and a former Catholic schoolteacher, Bernard Shero, 48 — all charged with raping or sodomizing the same 10-year-old altar boy 12 years ago.
Lynn’s lawyer, Thomas Bergstrom, told reporters that the charges against his client were “a stretch” and that he was pleading not guilty.
And Richard DeSipio, one of Brennan’s lawyers, went on the attack against his client’s accuser, now 29. “Their witness is in prison in Bucks County for stealing his sister’s credit card and using it,” DeSipio told Mensah Dean of The Philadelphia Daily News. “He’s a convicted liar.”
On a local radio show on Tuesday, Brennan — a priest suspended by the church in 2006 — said he was uninterested in a plea deal, and his lawyer continued to paint the accuser as troubled.
Even with a global scandal that never seems to stop disgorging disgusting stories, the Philadelphia grand jury report is especially sordid.
It tells the story of a fifth-grade altar boy at St. Jerome School given the pseudonym Billy. Father Engelhardt plied him with sacramental wine and pulled pornographic magazines out of a bag in the sacristy and told the child it was time “to become a man,” the report says.
A week later, after Billy served an early Mass, the report states that Engelhardt instructed him to take off his clothes and perform oral sex on him. Then the priest told the boy he was “dismissed.”
“After that, Billy was in effect passed around to Engelhardt’s colleagues,” the report says. “Father Edward Avery undressed with the boy, told him that God loved him,” and then had him perform sex. “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.”
Billy fell apart and turned to heroin.
The report says Brennan knew Mark from the time he was 9. When he was 14, the priest arranged with Mark’s mother for a sleepover. “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 the priest raped him as he cried, according to the report.
Mark also fell apart and attempted suicide.
Out of the church’s many unpleasant confrontations with modernity, this is the starkest. It’s tragically past time to send the message that priests can’t do anything they want and hide their sins behind special privilege.
In Seth Williams’s city, the law sees no collars, except the ones put on criminals.
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