Engelhardt will be tried alongside his clergy co-defendants


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. ••


You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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