- Defrocked priest Edward Avery of the Philadelphia archdiocese pleaded guilty
- Avery, 69, was sentenced to two-and-a-half to five years
- Support group urges any other victims of Avery "to step forward and get help"
Defrocked priest Edward Avery of the Philadelphia archdiocese pleaded guilty today to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger welfare of child, according to court documents.
Avery, 69, was sentenced to two-and-a-half to five years. He is scheduled to report for his sentence on April 2.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia would not comment on the plea citing a gag order imposed by a Philadelphia judge that remains in effect. It bars all parties involved in the criminal case from talking to the media.
A grand jury last year charged four Philadelphia priests and a parochial school teacher with raping and assaulting boys in their care. Avery, who was defrocked in 2006, and another priest, James Brennan, were accused of sexually abusing children between 1996 and 1999, and slated to go on trial with the Rev. William Lynn next week in what case experts have called one of the most sweeping sex abuse scandals in America. Lynn is accused of knowingly allowing dangerous priests access to children.
Lynn, who served as the secretary for clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the alleged assaults. Bevilacqua died on January 31.
CNN Senior Vatican Analyst John Allen said last year that the charges against the former church official appeared to be unprecedented and could have national implications.
"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."
It is unclear how Avery's plea will affect the upcoming trial scheduled to begin March 26.
Barbara Blaine, president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests released a statement Thursday saying:
"We're grateful that Avery's victim won't have to endure a trial. We hope all of Avery's victims will feel comforted, knowing that kids will be safe from him for several years."
But she added that "a trial helps reveal often shocking levels of corruption by church officials -- information that the public and parishioners need and deserve to know. When clergy sex abuse and cover up cases settle before trial, embarrassing secrets about the Catholic hierarchy remain secret."
SNAP urged any other victims of Avery "to step forward and get help."