Northeast Times

Alleged victim in priest-abuse trial has his day in court

“You know, don’t you, that your testi­mony is com­pletely false?” a de­fense at­tor­ney on Wed­nes­day asked a former North­east man who had test­i­fied that two priests and a Cath­ol­ic lay teach­er had mo­les­ted him when he was 10 and 11 years old.

“You know it couldn’t have happened,” said Mi­chael McGov­ern, who rep­res­ents the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt.

The Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales and ex-teach­er Bern­ard Shero are on tri­al this week on charges they sexu­ally as­saul­ted the wit­ness in the late 1990s when he at­ten­ded St. Jerome par­ish school in the North­east and served at the church as an al­tar boy.

De­fense law­yers ques­tioned the wit­ness, now 24 and liv­ing in Flor­ida, for the first time Wed­nes­day, a day after he had giv­en the court a de­tailed — and graph­ic — ac­count of how En­gel­hardt had mo­les­ted him in St. Jerome’s sac­risty after a Mass dur­ing the 1998-99 school year and how he said Shero had or­ally raped him — and tried to anally rape him — in a car the next year.

In between as­saults by En­gel­hardt and Shero, the wit­ness said, he was mo­les­ted by an­oth­er priest, Ed­ward Avery, who last year pleaded guilty to charges he had ab­used the boy. Avery, now an ex-priest, is serving two and a half to five years in pris­on. He is ex­pec­ted to testi­fy for the pro­sec­u­tion, per­haps Thursday af­ter­noon.

McGov­ern and Shero’s at­tor­ney, Bur­ton Rose, asked the wit­ness about dif­fer­ent ver­sions of his ab­use that he had giv­en to arch­dioces­an so­cial work­ers and to a de­tect­ive from the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice. Re­peatedly, the wit­ness said he had no memory of what he had said. Al­though at­tor­neys con­tin­ued to ques­tion him on de­tails of those con­ver­sa­tions, the wit­ness, who has had years of drug prob­lems, drug re­hab­il­it­a­tion at­tempts and ar­rests, would not change his an­swer.

“I don’t re­mem­ber,” he said.

One of the de­tails of the wit­ness’ ac­count of ab­use was that he was as­saul­ted on a day he was work­ing as a mem­ber of the church’s “bell main­ten­ance crew,” a group of pu­pils who set up bells for St. Jerome’s bell choir.

McGov­ern asked the wit­ness, who had said he was as­saul­ted by En­gel­hardt and Avery while in fifth grade and by Shero while in sixth grade, if he would be sur­prised to learn that no pu­pils from those grades worked on the bell main­ten­ance crew.

McGov­ern poin­ted out that some of the as­saults were de­scribed as tak­ing place after an early-morn­ing Mass in a sac­risty. That church ante­room near the al­tar was small and could be ac­cessed by sev­er­al doors, in­clud­ing one that led dir­ectly from the school, McGov­ern said. He said oth­er priests and al­tar serv­ers could be com­ing in at any time to set up for Masses.

“It would be a crazy place to rape someone, wouldn’t it?” he asked.

Later, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mark Cip­po­letti asked the wit­ness how much time there had been between Masses. The an­swer was: al­most an hour.

On Wed­nes­day, Rose and McGov­ern asked about the wit­ness’ use of marijuana, heroin and hal­lu­cino­gen­ic drugs, re­hab­il­it­a­tion tries, ar­rests, why he didn’t re­port his as­sault al­leg­a­tions im­me­di­ately and his law­suit against the arch­diocese.

The wit­ness said he had be­gun smoking marijuana when he was 11 and went on to tak­ing pills, hal­lu­cino­gen­ic mush­rooms and LSD as well as heroin. The wit­ness said he has been sober for a year, has a job at a re­l­at­ive’s busi­ness in Flor­ida and lives alone.

He said he didn’t re­port the as­saults when he was a child be­cause he was afraid and be­lieved he did something wrong.

ldquo;I was scared I was go­ing to get in­to trouble,” he said.

As far as his pending law­suit is con­cerned, the wit­ness said, it was filed to put a stop to ab­use by priests.

“No money would make this bet­ter,” he said.

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 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.

Lynn, who went on tri­al with Bren­nan last March, is the first mem­ber of the coun­try’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic hier­archy to be charged with en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren, not for ever touch­ing any chil­dren, but for al­legedly shield­ing priests who had done so, and for keep­ing them in their min­is­tries, where they would have con­tact with kids. Avery had pleaded guilty be­fore the tri­al. Jur­ors were hung on charges against Bren­nan, who will be re­tried in March.

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

Lynn, who was con­victed and sen­tenced to three to six years in pris­on, is ap­peal­ing the ver­dict. On Monday, his at­tor­neys filed a mo­tion re­quest­ing the state’s Su­per­i­or Court to or­der the tri­al judge, M. Teresa Sarmina, to render an opin­ion on the ap­peal.

Testi­mony re­sumed today 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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