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2 more retired Philadelphia priests placed on leave in abuse probe

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The two priests, who were not identified, are retired
  • Dozens of current and former priests have been placed on leave
  • Wednesday's action is part of an ongoing investigation
  • Three civil suits have also been filed against priests and the archdiocese

(CNN) -- Two more priests have been placed on administrative leave by the Philadelphia Archdiocese as part of an ongoing investigation into the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, announced that the two unnamed priests, who are currently retired, have been placed on administrative leave, effective immediately, pending a more thorough independent investigation.

That investigation is being conducted by Gina Maisto Smith, a former child abuse prosecutor in Philadelphia, and a team of experts.

"These steps are interim measures and are not in any way final determinations or judgments," Rigali said in a written statement.

Earlier this month, 21 other priests were also placed on administrative leave following a review of sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic Church in Philadelphia.

The archdiocese says that Wednesday's actions are a part of an ongoing investigation with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

According to the archdiocese, one of the priests retired in 2005 due to health reasons and is no longer involved in the ministry. The other priest retired in 2006, and has assisted at parishes in another diocese.

Earlier this month, Rigali said that he wished "to express again my sorrow for the sexual abuse of minors committed by any members of the church, especially clergy."

"I am truly sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, as well as to the members of our community who suffer as a result of this great evil and crime," he said.

In February, three Philadelphia priests and a parochial school teacher were charged with raping and assaulting boys in their care, while a former official with the Philadelphia Archdiocese was accused of allowing the priests to have access to children, the city's district attorney's office said.

CNN Senior Vatican Analyst John Allen said the charges against the former church official appeared to be unprecedented and could have national implications.

"This is apparently the first time that a Catholic leader has been charged criminally for the cover-up as opposed to the abuse itself," he said.

"It sends a shot across the bow for bishops and other diocesan officials in other parts of the country, who have to wonder now if they've got criminal exposure, too."

Edward Avery, 68, and Charles Engelhardt, 64, were charged with allegedly assaulting a 10-year-old boy at St. Jerome Parish from 1998 to 1999.

Bernard Shero, 48, a teacher in the school, is charged with allegedly assaulting the same boy there in 2000, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said at a press conference in February.

James Brennan, another priest, is accused of assaulting a different boy, a 14-year-old, in 1996.

Monsignor William Lynn, who served as the secretary for clergy for the then-Philadelphia Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the alleged assaults, Williams said.

From 1992 until 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children, the district attorney's office said.

The grand jury found that Lynn, 60, endangered children, including the alleged victims of those charged last week, by knowingly allowing the priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to kids.

Avery, Engelhardt and Shero were charged with rape, indecent sexual assault and other criminal counts following the results of a grand jury investigation of clergy sexual abuse, Williams said. The names of the alleged victims, who are now in their 20s, have not been publicly released.

The grand jury believed that more than 30 priests remained in ministry in Pennsylvania despite solid, credible allegations of abuse, according to Williams.

Williams on Tuesday said Rigali's actions "are as commendable as they are unprecedented."

"Going forward, in cases involving allegations of abuse by clergy, my office and the Philadelphia police will investigate, and where appropriate we will charge and prosecute. I intend to use the resources of this office to the greatest extent possible to protect the children of Philadelphia," Williams said in a statement.

Three civil suits against the priests and the archdiocese have been filed.

CNN's Sarah Hoye and Rich Phillips contributed to this report.