A judge last week quickly brushed aside a motion to separately try one of the priests arrested last year on charges they molested minors.
Charles Engelhardt, who was arrested in early 2011 on charges he sexually abused a 10-year-old pupil at St. Jerome in the Northeast, will stand trial at the end of March with James Brennan, Edward Avery and William Lynn. Engelhardt, Avery and Brennan are facing molestation and conspiracy charges. Lynn is facing conspiracy and child endangerment charges.
Before Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina on Jan. 4, Engelhardt’s attorney, Michael McGovern, maintained the allegations against his client had no connection to the other priests’ cases and that trying Engelhardt with the other defendants would be a “manifest injustice.”
McGovern said the commonwealth’s case alleges a massive conspiracy on the part of the archdiocese. That conspiracy involves the actions of others, but not his client, he said.
After a grand jury had issued its report on sexual abuse of minors by Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic clergy, Engelhardt, Avery and lay teacher Bernard Shero were arrested on charges they had molested the same victim during the 1990s.
The grand jury, which released its report in February 2011, had begun investigating Engelhardt and Avery after the archdiocese itself reported the two men to authorities. During the course of their probe, grand jurors began looking at Shero and then Brennan, who allegedly had molested a minor elsewhere in the archdiocese.
Grand jurors charged Monsignor Lynn, who had served as secretary for clergy under now-retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, had endangered Brennan’s and Avery’s victims by allowing the two priests to remain active in roles in which they would have access to children.
McGovern said his client is not connected to that alleged conspiracy since Engelhardt, an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales, is not an archdiocesan priest.
The Oblates are members of a Roman Catholic religious order, which is independent of archdiocesan supervision. Oblates are teachers and some work at Father Judge, an archdiocesan high school in Holmesburg. They also had worked at Northeast Catholic High School for Boys before it was closed by the archdiocese.
Engelhardt was on the faculty of North Catholic from 1983 to ’92 and at Judge from 1992 to ’98. The Oblate also was parochial vicar of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish from 2007 to ’09, pastor of Mater Dolorosa Parish from 2000 to ’05, and parochial vicar of St. Jerome Parish from 1998 to 2000.
“My client has never been an archdiocesan priest,” McGovern said, “and was not part of this alleged conspiracy. … He has nothing to do with this other grand scheme that is the essence of this case.”
McGovern said his client shouldn’t have to sit with the other defendants in what is expected to be a four-month trial. Forcing his client to be with the others while evidence against them is presented in court would be “prejudicial and unfair” to Engelhardt, the attorney said.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said the commonwealth is not alleging Engelhardt participated in any conspiracy involving the archdiocese.
Prosecutors had charged that, in 1998, Engelhardt had molested a boy at St. Jerome’s in Winchester Park, that he had told Avery about the boy and that Avery subsequently began molesting the boy. Shero, a lay teacher at St. Jerome’s parish school, was charged with subsequently sexually abusing the same child.
When arrested in February 2011, the defendants had not been charged with conspiracy. Prosecutors later amended their cases against the men to include that offense.
According to the papers filed by prosecutors, Engelhardt “was the first to molest and orally sodomize the boy … after Mass in the sacristy of St. Jerome Church.”
The prosecutors said Engelhardt had referred to the times he molested the victim, a St. Jerome fifth-grader, and showed him pornography as “sessions.”
According to prosecutors’ papers, the boy was approached by Avery, a priest who lived in St. Jerome’s rectory with Engelhardt, later that same school year.
“Avery was not formally assigned to St. Jerome Parish because he had been accused earlier of abusing another boy. But his supervisors, Secretary for Clergy William Lynn and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, allowed Avery to live at the rectory, to say Mass on weekends, and to hear children’s confessions,” prosecutors wrote. “When Avery approached [the alleged victim] … he told the boy he had heard about his “sessions” with Father Engelhardt. He told [the alleged victim] that their own sessions would start soon. Not long after the warning, Avery molested, orally sodomized, and forced the boy to perform sex acts on the priest in the sacristy after Mass. Avery had two such sessions with [the alleged victim.]”
Although Sarmina refused McGovern’s request to give Engelhardt a separate trial, the judge said she would have no problem with McGovern reminding jurors that some evidence presented during the trial has nothing to do with his client.
Jury selection will begin in February. The trial will begin at the end of March. Shero’s trial is expected to begin in September.
In the summer, Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian Ransom quashed the conspiracy charge against Shero. In July, Burton Rose, Shero’s attorney, asked Ransom to separate his client’s case from the others’ since he was no longer accused of conspiring with them. Ransom refused. Rose later asked Sarmina to separate Shero’s case. Sarmina didn’t say yes or no, but instead asked Ransom to listen to Rose’s arguments last month. Ransom did and then granted Shero a separate trial. ••EndFragment