By John P. Martin, The Philadelphia Inquirer –
PHILADELPHIA — A defrocked Philadelphia priest accused of molesting boys pleaded guilty Thursday, four days before he was to stand trial with two other priests in a landmark case about child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Edward V. Avery, 69, was immediately sentenced to 2 1/2 to 5 years in state prison under a negotiated plea with prosecutors.
It was unclear how his plea could affect the trial scheduled to start Monday or if he would become a government witness. Citing a gag order in the case, prosecutors said they could not comment.
But Avery’s decision is likely to increase pressure on his codefendants, particularly Monsignor William J. Lynn, the former archdiocesan official accused of covering up or enabling abuse by priests.
In a brief hearing before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, Avery pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiring with Lynn and others to endanger children.
Asked by the judge if he felt he had to plead guilty, Avery paused, then said: “It’s something I have discussed and decided to do.”
He later declined an opportunity from the judge to explain his actions.
Avery’s lawyer, John P. Donohue, told the judge: “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.”
Prosecutors accused Avery of twice abusing a fifth-grade altar boy in the sacristy at St. Jerome’s Church in Northeast Philadelphia in 1999. An amateur disc jockey known to some as “the Smiling Padre,” Avery had been assigned to St. Jerome’s in 1993, the year after a medical school student reported to that archdiocesan officials Avery had molested him in the 1970s.
Lynn, as the secretary for clergy, recommended the assignment and was supposed to be part of a team monitoring Avery’s behavior.
When Avery was removed from active ministry in 2003, he complained publicly that it was because of one outdated and unsubstantiated allegation against him. The church defrocked him in 2006 and paid him a severance package.
But at least two more men have come forward to accuse Avery since he, Lynn and three other men were charged in February 2011, prosecutors said.
Under the plea outlined Thursday by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, Avery also agreed that he conspired with Lynn and others to participate in “a course of conduct” that endangered children.
Lynn, 61, is the lead defendant in the trial slated to start next week. Also on trial is the Rev. James Brennan, charged with molesting a boy in 1996. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Sarmina ordered Avery to begin serving his sentence on April 2. He also has to register as a lifetime sexual offender.
“We hope all of Avery’s victims will feel comforted knowing that kids will be safe from him for several years,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.