At trial, convicted priest says he didn't do it

A former priest who last year pleaded guilty to sexu­ally ab­us­ing a young North­east boy denied on Thursday he had ever touched the child.

Testi­fy­ing in the tri­al of two men ac­cused of mo­lest­ing the same boy, Ed­ward Avery, 70, told jur­ors he had not in­de­cently as­saul­ted a 10-year-old  St. Jerome par­ish al­tar boy. He also said he had only a slight ac­quaint­ance with Charles En­gel­hardt, a priest the vic­tim said had mo­les­ted him first and that he didn’t know Bern­ard Shero, 49, a former par­ish school teach­er who also is charged with as­sault­ing the boy.

Look­ing frail in pris­on cloth­ing, Avery said he pleaded guilty in March 2012 to charges he had mo­les­ted the boy in spring 1999 be­cause he be­lieved it was the best way to avoid a long in­car­cer­a­tion.

ldquo;I didn’t want to die in pris­on,” he said.

Avery was sen­tenced to two and a half to five years in pris­on. He said he has been in­car­cer­ated for about 10 months.

On Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, Avery’s al­leged vic­tim, 24, test­i­fied in de­tail that the former priest had mo­les­ted him twice after En­gel­hardt, now 66, had done so once dur­ing the same school year. He said he was sexu­ally as­saul­ted once by Shero, his sixth-grade home­room teach­er, in 2000.

The sexu­al ab­use, he said, changed him. A re­cov­er­ing heroin ad­dict, the man said his life has been filled with drug use, drug re­hab­il­it­a­tion at­tempts and ar­rests.

Be­fore Avery denied he had as­saul­ted the boy, he answered sev­er­al ques­tions from As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mark Cip­po­letti about his guilty plea, agree­ing that he did plead guilty be­fore Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina just days be­fore he was to go on tri­al with Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn and the Rev. James Bren­nan.

The al­leged vic­tim had test­i­fied last year dur­ing Bren­nan’s and Lynn’s tri­al. 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 al­leg­a­tions against Avery, knew he was a mo­lester and had kept him in min­istry, thereby put­ting chil­dren at risk. Lynn is serving a pris­on term of three to six years but is ap­peal­ing his con­vic­tion.

In testi­mony earli­er Thursday, An­drew Snyder, a Phil­adelphia po­lice de­tect­ive, told jur­ors how hear­ing a thump com­ing from Shero’s Bris­tol apart­ment wor­ried him on the day in Feb­ru­ary 2011 he had gone there to ar­rest him.

It soun­ded like a body, he said.

It took some time, but he and oth­er of­ficers even­tu­ally got in­to the apart­ment and found a woozy Shero. They got him to a hos­pit­al. The de­tect­ive said Shero had told him he had taken sleep­ing pills. Snyder said he also found a “sui­cide let­ter” from Shero to his par­ents in the man’s apart­ment.

Snyder read the let­ter in court. In it, Shero apo­lo­gizes to his par­ents for the hu­mi­li­ation that had en­dured be­cause of the al­leg­a­tions against him. Nowhere in the let­ter read in court Thursday did Shero ad­mit to mo­lest­ing the vic­tim.  ••

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

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