Northeast Times

Ex-priest to testify in sex-abuse trial

An ex-priest who last year pleaded guilty to sexu­ally ab­us­ing a 10-year-old St. Jerome’s al­tar boy will testi­fy for the pro­sec­u­tion in the tri­al of two oth­er men ac­cused of mo­lest­ing the same child.

That child, now a 24-year-old man, also will be a wit­ness against the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former Cath­ol­ic lay teach­er Bern­ard Shero along with Ed­ward Avery, who pleaded guilty in March 2012 to as­sault­ing the boy.

Pro­sec­utors and de­fense at­tor­neys on Monday made their open­ing state­ments in what is the second tri­al stem­ming from a 2011 Phil­adelphia grand jury re­port on sexu­al ab­use by the city’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic clergy.

As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Evan­gelia Manos and de­fense law­yers Mi­chael McGov­ern and Bur­ton Rose all de­scribed the al­leged vic­tim as a troubled man with a his­tory of drug ab­use, drug re­hab at­tempts, sui­cid­al fantas­ies and run-ins with the law.

Manos told jur­ors the man’s life was dam­aged by the al­leged ab­use. McGov­ern, who rep­res­ents En­gel­hardt, said testi­mony will show all the trouble began years after the ab­use al­legedly oc­curred and con­tin­ues to the present. While still at St. Jerome’s in the North­east, McGov­ern said, he was act­ive, in­volved and “the all-Amer­ic­an boy.”

“The pro­sec­u­tion’s star wit­ness,” McGov­ern said, has giv­en sev­er­al very dif­fer­ent ver­sions of what he said the de­fend­ants did to him while he was in fifth and sixth grades in the late 1990s.

“It’s non­sense,” said Rose, Shero’s at­tor­ney.

“I know he is a dam­aged per­son, a broken per­son,” McGov­ern said, stress­ing that the man’s life was not af­fected by his cli­ent.

Rose said it was his cli­ent whose life has been ruined by the ac­cus­a­tions that he had ab­used a little boy. Shero, he said, tried to com­mit sui­cide after he was ac­cused, but not be­cause he ad­mit­ted do­ing any­thing to the boy. Rose said Shero’s sui­cide note was to his fam­ily, telling how he knew the charges would hu­mi­li­ate them.

The al­leged vic­tim’s moth­er test­i­fied Monday that her son’s life re­mains troubled and that he has a drug charge pending from Novem­ber 2011.

As the pro­sec­u­tion’s first wit­ness, she said her son was a happy and act­ive kid while in grade school. But after his be­loved grand­moth­er died in late 2002, he changed. Her son was ex­pelled from Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School dur­ing his fresh­man year when he was caught with drugs and brass knuckles. She said she and her hus­band first thought her son was act­ing out after his “mom-mom’s” death.

She said she first heard her son say a priest had ab­used him some­time after he turned 18.

Shero has pleaded not guilty to charges of rape of a child, in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course with a child, en­dan­ger­ing wel­fare of chil­dren, cor­rup­tion of minors and in­de­cent as­sault of a per­son less than 13 years of age. En­gel­hardt pleaded not guilty to charges of in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course with a child, en­dan­ger­ing wel­fare of chil­dren, cor­rup­tion of minors, in­de­cent as­sault of a per­son less than 13 years of age and con­spir­acy.

Shero and En­gel­hardt were ar­res­ted in early 2011, but the in­vest­ig­a­tion that led to the ar­rests began in 2009 when the al­leged vic­tim told the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia and then the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice about what happened to him in the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 school years at St. Jerome.

A grand jury began look­ing in­to al­leg­a­tions against En­gel­hardt and Avery in 2010. While those in­vest­ig­a­tions were tak­ing place, the pan­el star­ted prob­ing the Rev. James Bren­nan, Shero and Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn. All five were ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2011 and ori­gin­ally were sched­uled to go on tri­al to­geth­er. Ini­tially, they all had pleaded not guilty.

En­gel­hardt, Avery and Shero were charged with mo­lest­ing the St. Jerome’s pu­pil; Bren­nan was charged with mo­lest­ing a Bucks County teen. Lynn, however, be­came the first mem­ber of the coun­try’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic hier­archy to be charged with en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren, not for ever touch­ing a minor, but for al­legedly shield­ing priests who had.

En­gel­hardt’s and Shero’s at­tor­neys suc­cess­fully ar­gued to have their cli­ents’ cases sep­ar­ated from the oth­er three.

Avery pleaded guilty be­fore the tri­al began in March 2012. Jur­ors were hung on charges against Bren­nan. They ac­quit­ted Lynn of con­spir­acy and one en­dan­ger­ment charge, but they found him guilty of an­oth­er. Pro­sec­utors had said Lynn had en­dangered the St. Jerome pu­pil by keep­ing Avery in min­istry des­pite know­ledge that he was a child mo­lester.

Avery is serving a term of two and a half to five years in pris­on. Lynn, who is ap­peal­ing his con­vic­tion, is serving three to six years. Bren­nan will be re­tried.

On Monday, Manos said the man who she said was mo­les­ted by En­gel­hardt, Avery and Shero when he was a boy, was sub­jec­ted to vile acts by men trus­ted by his par­ents, both lifelong Cath­ol­ics,

“Why would they ever ima­gine or think that any­one who would hurt a child or ab­use a child would be in their midst?” Manos asked jur­ors.

It was En­gel­hardt, who caught the boy drink­ing sac­ra­ment­al wine after a Mass, who first ab­used him, Manos said. After ask­ing the boy per­son­al ques­tions to “feel him out,” she said, he later mo­les­ted him, know­ing the boy “would have to con­fess his own mis­deeds if he told his par­ents.”

Manos gave jur­ors a graph­ic de­scrip­tion of the boy’s en­counter with En­gel­hardt, con­clud­ing with, “These vile acts that were per­pet­rated on this little boy he called ‘ses­sions.’”

Avery, who lived at St. Jerome’s down the hall from En­gel­hardt, was next, she said.

“He re­sumed the ses­sions,” she said.

Shero al­legedly or­ally raped and tried to anally rape the boy dur­ing the next school year, Manos said.

“These crimes hap­pen in private,” she said, telling jur­ors that, if they be­lieve the un­cor­rob­or­ated testi­mony of a sexu­al ab­use vic­tim, they may con­vict a de­fend­ant.

McGov­ern said people look­ing at a Ro­man col­lar nowadays see a bull’s-eye. “There is a pre­sump­tion of guilt,” he said.

But his cli­ent is in­no­cent, he ad­ded.

The case against En­gel­hardt has “no ring of truth, but a moun­tain of reas­on­able doubt.”

The vic­tim’s fath­er is a long­time Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer, McGov­ern said.

What pred­at­or picks a cop’s son? he asked. “It de­fies com­mon sense.”

McGov­ern said the vic­tim is su­ing the arch­diocese and the three men he said ab­used him. 

Be­cause so many years had passed between when the ab­use al­legedly oc­curred and the time charges were brought, there is no phys­ic­al evid­ence.

Rose said the wit­ness against his cli­ent had “found a way to ex­plain away his own bad choices.”

Shero had been bul­lied as a child, and as a teach­er at St. Jerome, which is why he quit his teach­ing job there — his first such job.

Testi­mony re­sumes Tues­day in Courtroom 304 of the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter, 13th and Fil­bert streets. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com 

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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