Bombshell testimony at sex-abuse trial

An ex-priest’s testi­mony in the tri­al of two men ac­cused of mo­lest­ing a North­east al­tar boy could fuel leg­al man­euvers to free Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, who was con­victed last year in a his­tory-mak­ing sexu­al ab­use case.

Ed­ward Avery, who pleaded guilty to mo­lesta­tion charges in 2012, last week test­i­fied he had nev­er touched the boy whom the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former St. Jerome school teach­er Bern­ard Shero also are ac­cused of sexu­ally ab­us­ing. 

Avery, 70, told jur­ors in Com­mon Pleas Court that he did not in­de­cently as­sault the 10-year-old St. Jerome par­ish al­tar boy in the late 1990s. Pro­sec­utors had called Avery to the wit­ness stand in the tri­al for Shero and En­gel­hardt.

Avery’s testi­mony could aid Lynn be­cause the monsignor was con­victed of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren in con­nec­tion with Avery’s al­leged crimes. Pro­sec­utors had charged Lynn, as sec­ret­ary for clergy, had al­lowed Avery to re­main in min­istry even though Lynn knew Avery was a mo­lester.

Avery’s state­ment in En­gel­hardt’s and Shero’s tri­al last week could be used in a mo­tion to get bail for Lynn, the monsignor’s law­yer, Thomas Bergstrom, said Tues­day.

Avery last week test­i­fied he had only a slight ac­quaint­ance with En­gel­hardt, a priest the al­leged vic­tim said had mo­les­ted him first, and that he didn’t know Shero, 49, a former par­ish school teach­er who also is charged with as­sault­ing the boy.

Avery’s stun­ning state­ment came a day after the al­leged vic­tim ended his testi­mony. Judge El­len Ceisler has is­sued a gag or­der in the tri­al, pre­vent­ing all parties from talk­ing about the case. The pro­sec­u­tion res­ted its case on Tues­day morn­ing. 

The former priest, look­ing frail and tired after 10 months in pris­on, for the most part agreed with As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mark Cip­po­letti’s re­cap and ex­plan­a­tion of his March 2012 guilty plea be­fore Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. 

But un­der con­tin­ued ques­tion­ing, Avery said, “I pleaded guilty to avoid a lengthy pris­on term.”

He ad­ded, “I didn’t want to die in pris­on.”

He said he nev­er “had any con­tact” with the man who test­i­fied that the then-priest had sexu­ally ab­used him twice when he was a boy in the spring of 1999.

Bergstrom said he is await­ing tran­scripts of Avery’s Jan. 17 testi­mony, adding that he had not talked to his cli­ent but knows Lynn is aware of Avery’s testi­mony. The law­yer said Lynn’s fam­ily mem­bers had in­formed him of it.

“It’s his call,” wheth­er to re­new a bail mo­tion be­fore Su­per­i­or Court, Bergstrom said dur­ing a phone in­ter­view. Lynn has been in­car­cer­ated since he was con­victed on June 22. He was sen­tenced to three to six years in pris­on.

Lynn is ap­peal­ing his con­vic­tion. If the ap­peal is suc­cess­ful, Bergstrom said, us­ing Avery’s testi­mony “be­comes aca­dem­ic.”

However, if that ap­peal fails, the at­tor­ney said, Avery’s testi­mony could be used in a re­quest for a new tri­al.

Bergstrom on Tues­day said Avery’s re­cent testi­mony did not come as a sur­prise.

“We found out that was his po­s­i­tion back in late Au­gust or early Septem­ber,” he said, but ad­ded that it was too late to af­fect the out­come of Lynn’s tri­al, which con­cluded in late June 2012. 

What he doesn’t un­der­stand, Bergstrom said, is why pro­sec­utors called Avery as a wit­ness.

“They had to know he wouldn’t be help­ful,” Bergstrom said.

The at­tor­ney said he didn’t be­lieve it was com­pletely ac­cur­ate to say Avery re­can­ted his guilty plea. 

“He is not look­ing to with­draw his plea,” Bergstrom said, adding that Avery nev­er test­i­fied that he had ab­used the boy who said he was mo­les­ted first by En­gel­hardt, then by Avery and then by Shero.

Bergstrom said he had read the tran­script of Avery’s March 22 guilty plea and he said the de­frocked priest was nev­er asked if he had mo­les­ted the boy.

Avery was sen­tenced to two and a half to five years. If he serves his full term, he’ll be 75 on re­lease.

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 has 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.

On Jan. 15 and 16, Avery’s al­leged vic­tim, now 24, test­i­fied in graph­ic de­tail that Avery mo­les­ted him after En­gel­hardt, now 66, had done so once dur­ing the 1998-99 school year. The young man also test­i­fied he was sexu­ally as­saul­ted once by Shero, his sixth-grade home­room teach­er at St. Jerome’s par­ish school, in 2000.

Mi­chael McGov­ern, En­gel­hardt’s at­tor­ney, asked Avery if he had ever con­spired with his cli­ent.

“Ab­so­lutely not,” Avery said.

Pro­sec­utors have main­tained that Avery mo­les­ted the boy after hear­ing about how En­gel­hardt al­legedly ab­used the youth. 

Avery said he worked at the time as a chap­lain at Naz­areth Hos­pit­al and was there from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m. most days. He said he had little con­tact with En­gel­hardt al­though both men lived on the same floor of St. Jerome’s rect­ory in the North­east. 

Dur­ing his testi­mony on Jan. 17, Avery said he was al­most des­ti­tute, but when asked by Cip­po­letti, Avery agreed that it was true that he had sold a prop­erty for $1 mil­lion be­fore he went to pris­on last year. He also said the al­leged vic­tim had filed a civil suit against him.

On Jan. 16, Bur­ton Rose, who is Shero’s law­yer, and McGov­ern asked about the al­leged vic­tim’s use of marijuana, heroin and hal­lu­cino­gen­ic drugs, re­hab­il­it­a­tion tries and ar­rests. The wit­ness was also asked why he didn’t re­port his as­sault al­leg­a­tions im­me­di­ately. The wit­ness said he had be­gun smoking marijuana after he said he was mo­les­ted when he was 11. He said he went on to tak­ing pills and us­ing hal­lu­cino­gen­ic mush­rooms, LSD and heroin.

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

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

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

A grand jury began look­ing in­to al­leg­a­tions against En­gel­hardt, Avery and Shero in 2010. While those in­vest­ig­a­tions were tak­ing place, the pan­el star­ted prob­ing the Rev. James Bren­nan and Monsignor Lynn. All five were ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2011 and were sched­uled to go on tri­al to­geth­er. Ini­tially, they all 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 touch­ing any chil­dren, but for al­legedly shield­ing priests and for keep­ing them in their min­is­tries, where they would have con­tact with chil­dren.

Avery pleaded guilty be­fore the tri­al began. The jury was hung in the charges against Bren­nan, who will be re­tried in March.

Bergstrom said Lynn, who is in­car­cer­ated in Way­mart state pris­on in Wayne County, Pa., is do­ing as well as can be ex­pec­ted in pris­on.

“He lost forty-four pounds,” Bergstrom said. “He’s in good shape. He stays busy with read­ing … He spends a lot of time in pray­er.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

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