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De-frocked priest pleads guilty ahead of Philadelphia pedophilia trial

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A defrocked priest accused of sex abuse in the pedophilia scandal that has rocked the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia pleaded guilty on Thursday, just days before he, another priest and a higher-ranking monsignor were due to go to trial.

Edward Avery, 69, admitted to sex abuse involving a 10-year-old boy and was promptly sentenced by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to two-and-a-half to five years in prison for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and criminal conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children.

Avery was one of three defendants in the high-profile case at the Archdiocese, the sixth largest in the nation with 1.5 million Catholics.

The trial is due to begin on Monday with Rev. James Brennan, who is charged with child sex abuse, and Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary of the clergy for the Archdiocese, who is accused of child endangerment and conspiracy.

Lynn, who prosecutors say covered up the abuse, is the first U.S. church official to be charged and go to trial.

In a grand jury report in January 2011, Avery was accused of sex abuse involving a child at a parish in the Northeast section of Philadelphia in 1998 and 1999. Avery was defrocked in 2006.

Lynn, who was responsible within the Archdiocese for investigating sex abuse claims from 1992 to 2004, faces the possibility of 14 years in prison if convicted.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors are forbidden from commenting on the case due to a court-imposed gag order.

However, civil attorney Marci Hamilton, who represents six alleged victims in the case, said the guilty plea might be a signal that Avery might be prepared to testify against the others.

"You had to wonder if he was committing himself to being a martyr in the process," she said.

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Tim Gaynor)

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