Witness in priest sex-abuse trial: I was molested

A 24-year-old former North­east Phil­adelphia res­id­ent on Tues­day poin­ted to the two men he said mo­les­ted him when he was 10 and 11 years old and said that ab­use changed him and changed his life.

Testi­fy­ing in open court for just the second time, the wit­ness iden­ti­fied former St. Jerome ele­ment­ary school lay teach­er Bern­ard Shero, 49, and the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt, 66, as two of three adults who mo­les­ted him when he was a pu­pil and al­tar boy at the North­east par­ish. Both ac­cused men have pleaded in­no­cent to sexu­al as­sault charges. En­gel­hardt also has pleaded not guilty to a con­spir­acy charge.

Be­fore he was to go on tri­al last year, the third man, ex-priest Ed­ward Avery, pleaded guilty to as­sault­ing the wit­ness in St. Jerome’s sac­risty in the late 1990s. He cur­rently is im­prisoned but is ex­pec­ted to testi­fy for the pro­sec­u­tion some­time this week or next.

On the stand Tues­day, the young wit­ness, who now lives and works in Flor­ida, told As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mark Cip­po­letti that En­gel­hardt caught him in a church bath­room drink­ing sac­ra­ment­al wine left over from an early-morn­ing Mass at St. Jerome dur­ing the 1998-99 school year. In­stead of scold­ing him, the wit­ness said, the priest, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, told him not to do it again and to come in­to the sac­risty, a church ante­room near the al­tar, and to sit down.

The wit­ness said the priest asked him if had a girl­friend, if he had looked at por­no­graphy, and if he was in­ter­ested in boys or girls.

The young man told the priest he had seen porn, and that the priest took pa­pers and magazines from a little black briefcase. The magazines had pic­tures of na­ked men and wo­men who were en­gaged in both het­ero­sexu­al and ho­mo­sexu­al acts, he said.

“I was a little scared,” the wit­ness said. “But then, it was kind of cool.”

The wit­ness said En­gel­hardt told him it was time for him to be­come a man and that “our ses­sions” would soon again.

“He said he would be see­ing me soon,” the wit­ness said.

ldquo;Soon” was some­time in the next week or week and a half, the wit­ness said, when En­gel­hardt told the boy to stay be­hind after an­oth­er early-morn­ing Mass.

Again, he test­i­fied, En­gel­hardt told him it was time to be­come a man. He said the priest told him that God loved him and “this is what God wants.”

He said the priest told him to un­dress, took his own cloth­ing off, told the boy, “just watch how it’s done” and pro­ceeded to mo­lest the child with or­al sex.

The young man said En­gel­hardt told him he had “done a good job” and that God loved him. After that, the wit­ness said, he avoided the priest as much as a he could.

Again, the wit­ness told Cip­po­letti, he told no one about what had happened to him.

Months later, he said, Avery, who lived at the par­ish rect­ory, told him he had heard of his “ses­sions” with En­gel­hardt and that theirs would be­gin soon.

He de­scribed in de­tail two oc­ca­sions in which those ses­sions in­volved or­al sex with Avery in a church stor­age room. The wit­ness said Avery, who worked part time as a disc jockey, had him strip to mu­sic dur­ing the first “ses­sion.”

At one point dur­ing that first time, the wit­ness said, Avery tried to put his fin­ger in the boy’s rectum.

“I screamed,” he said.

He told no one what had happened, he said. Two weeks later, the wit­ness said, Avery told him in was time for an­oth­er “ses­sion.” He was told to strip again while Avery sat there with the weird smile he al­ways had, the wit­ness said. The “ses­sion” ended with the priest or­der­ing the boy to give him or­al sex, the wit­ness said.

He told no one about that ses­sion either, he said.

The wit­ness said he traded al­tar boy du­ties with oth­ers to avoid Avery and nev­er had an­oth­er “ses­sion” with him or En­gel­hardt.

Dur­ing the next school year, when he was in sixth grade, he said, Bern­ard Shero, who was his home­room and Eng­lish teach­er, offered him a ride home after a de­ten­tion. In­stead of tak­ing him home, the wit­ness said, Shero drove him to a park­ing lot in Pennypack Park where he mo­les­ted him.

The wit­ness said he later ex­per­i­enced testic­u­lar pain, vomit­ing and cough­ing.

“I lost a lot of weight,” he said.

He said he began to smoke marijuana when he was 11. Later in the next dec­ade he used harder drugs and be­came ad­dicted to heroin. His last drug-re­lated ar­rest was in Novem­ber 2011. He gradu­ated from St. Jerome’s par­ish school but was later kicked out of Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School for hav­ing marijuana and brass knuckles.

In their open­ing state­ments Monday, de­fense at­tor­neys said the wit­ness, the son of a Phil­adelphia po­lice ser­geant, didn’t tell any­one of these ex­per­i­ences un­til he was older than 18 and was only claim­ing they oc­curred to make ex­cuses for a troubled life of drug use, ar­rests and un­suc­cess­ful drug re­hab­il­it­a­tion at­tempts — as well as su­ing the arch­diocese and his al­leged ab­users.

The wit­ness’ moth­er on Monday said she and her hus­band ini­tially thought the dark side of her son that began to show in early 2003 when he was 14 was due to his be­loved grand­moth­er dy­ing just months be­fore. She said she and her hus­band both thought their boy was act­ing out be­cause of grief.

After he had turned 18, she said, her son made a one-sen­tence state­ment that he had been ab­used by a priest and then did not speak of it again.

Earli­er Tues­day, however, a child­hood friend told the court the wit­ness had told him about the in­cid­ents when they were alone drink­ing beer when they were 16.

The young wit­ness had test­i­fied dur­ing last year’s tri­al of the Rev. James Bren­nan and Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn. Jur­ors couldn’t reach ver­dicts on charges Bren­nan had sexu­ally as­saul­ted a Bucks County teen. However, they found Lynn, who had served 12 years as the arch­diocese’s sec­ret­ary of clergy, guilty of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren be­cause he had in­vest­ig­ated Avery, knew he was a mo­lester and had kept him in min­istry, thereby put­ting chil­dren at risk.

The wit­ness also had test­i­fied be­fore a Phil­adelphia grand jury but nev­er has been ques­tioned by de­fense at­tor­neys. That is ex­pec­ted to oc­cur today in Courtroom 304 of the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter, 13th and Fil­bert streets.

Get full up­dates of this story in the print ver­sion of the North­east Times.

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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