EIGHT YEARS after the American-clergy sex-abuse controversy erupted, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams yesterday lobbed a bombshell into the still-simmering scandal.

Williams announced the grand-jury indictment of one of former Archbishop Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's top aides for allegedly endangering children by shielding pedophile priests from detection and shuffling them into unsuspecting parishes where they could continue the perversions of which they are accused.

It's believed to be the first time a high-ranking Catholic official has been accused of being criminally accountable for covering up priest abuse.

Monsignor William Lynn, 60, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. As Bevilacqua's secretary for clergy, he was the Archdiocese's personnel director and responsible for investigating reports of priest sexual abuse from 1992 until 2004.

Grand jurors had aimed even higher, saying that Bevilacqua may have been involved in the coverup.

"We do know that over the years Cardinal Bevilacqua was kept closely advised of Monsignor Lynn's activities, and personally authorized many of them . . . [but] we cannot conclude that a successful prosecution can be brought against the Cardinal - at least for the moment," they wrote in their 124-page report.

The cardinal, 87, suffers from cancer and dementia, according to his lawyer.

Lynn, now parish priest at St. Joseph's, in Downingtown, faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, the diocese's archbishop since 2003, declined to discuss the grand-jury report in detail yesterday.

"It is my intention to consider carefully and take very seriously any observations and recommendations of this grand jury," he said.

Advocates for abuse victims celebrated the indictments.

"This news means that finally one of the hundreds of complicit Catholic officials who have hidden or are hiding clergy sex crimes might be brought to justice," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Besides the accusations against Lynn and Bevilacqua, the report lays out the abuse allegations involving three other priests and a lay teacher in assaults on two boys.

In one case, two priests and a secular teacher at St. Jerome School, in Northeast Philadelphia, allegedly acted in a sort of perverted tag-team: A priest who molested a 10-year-old altar boy allegedly bragged about it to another priest and the lay teacher, who "passed around" the boy to satisfy their own sick compulsions, according to the grand jury.

In the earlier case, the Rev. James Brennan befriended the family of a 9-year-old parishioner of St. Andrew Church, in Newtown, Bucks County, according to the report.

When the boy was 14, in 1996, his parents allowed him to spend the night at an apartment that Brennan rented in Chester County, the report said. During the sleepover, Brennan allegedly showed him pornography on his computer and bragged about his penis size. He then sodomized him, grand jurors charged.

But years before the alleged rape, church leaders had documented "inappropriate relationships" that Brennan had with minors, primarily as a teacher at Cardinal O'Hara High School, in Springfield, and as live-in chaplain at Divine Providence Village, a residential facility for young women with developmental disabilities, according to the grand-jury report.

Still, Lynn, who recommended priest transfers, and Bevilacqua, who approved them, kept Brennan in parishes with schools, according to the report.

Brennan wasn't booted from active ministry until January 2006, when his victim reported his abuse, the Archdiocese said. He is undergoing a canonical trial to determine his status as a priest.

In the more recent case, a fifth-grader at St. Jerome School, in Holme Circle, allegedly first fell prey to a priest in 1998.

The Rev. Charles Engelhardt allegedly caught the altar boy, then 10, sneaking some wine in the sacristy. Instead of punishing him, Engelhardt allegedly showed the boy some smutty magazines, told him to strip and performed oral sex on him and vice versa, according to the grand jury.

Engelhardt's attorney, Michael J. McGovern, said yesterday that his client was innocent. "It's shocking to my client, it's shocking to me," he said.

But according to the grand jury, Engelhardt apparently confided in like-minded colleagues about his encounter.

The Rev. Edward Avery allegedly molested the boy in the same sacristy. Lay teacher Bernard Shero offered the boy a ride home, but instead drove to a park, where he orally and anally raped him, according to the grand jury.

Archdiocesan officials had known for years that Avery had pedophilia problems, according to the grand jury.

A married 29-year-old medical student told the Archdiocese in 1992 that Avery had molested him in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was an altar boy at St. Philip Neri Church, in East Greenville, Chester County.

Avery was placed in an inpatient sex-offender program and released with the recommendation that he be monitored and not be placed around children, according to the grand jury.

Instead, Lynn ignored complaints that the after-care team never met, and Bevilacqua assigned Avery to St. Jerome's, the grand jury found.

Neighbors in the tidy neighborhood across from St. Jerome Parish were shocked and saddened yesterday by the news.

"I'm disappointed," said Ron Martin, 64, who has been a parishioner at the church for 37 years. "It's a great parish, a very close-knit neighborhood parish."

Andrea McHugh, 40, a parishioner since 1997, has two daughters, one in sixth grade, the other in eighth; and a son in first grade, at St. Jerome Catholic School. She said that she didn't think anything unsafe has happened since the alleged incidents but that she's "more cautious with my son. I just watch everything that's going on."

Brennan, 47, of Linfield, Montgomery County; Engelhardt, 64, of Wyndmoor; Avery, 68, of Haverford, and Shero, 48, of Bristol, surrendered to authorities yesterday. They face up to 67 years in prison if convicted.

None of the priests remains in active ministry; Avery was defrocked in 2006, according to the Archdiocese. Shero was removed from the classroom in February 2009, and his contract wasn't renewed last year.

Staff writer Julie Shaw contributed to this report.