Jurors today continued deliberations in the trial of a priest and an ex-Catholic school teacher charged with molesting the same Northeast Philadelphia schoolboy in the late 1990s.
Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler put the fates of the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former teacher Bernard Shero in the jury’s hands Friday afternoon after they heard her instructions, but they deliberated a little more than an hour before being dismissed for the weekend.
Engelhardt, an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales, 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.
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.
How the jury decides will almost certainly be derived from the believability of two key witnesses:
* A 24-year-man who said the men had molested him when he was a 10- and 11-year-old pupil and altar boy at St. Jerome’s parish school in the Northeast.
* A 70-year-old imprisoned ex-priest, Edward Avery, who had pleaded guilty last year to molestation charges, but testified on the stand Jan. 17 that he had never had any contact with the man who accused Engelhardt, him and Shero.
In their closing statements last week, defense attorneys Burton Rose and Michael McGovern attacked the credibility of the accuser’s testimony, pointing to his decade of drug abuse and trouble with the law. They also questioned why the witness against heir clients waited until 2009 to report sexual abuse he said occurred in 1999 and 2000. The defense attorneys also said the accuser has given more than two versions of what he said happened to him.
Further, defense attorneys said the alleged victim’s motivation for testifying against their clients is that he is suing the defendants and Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese.
While on the witness stand Jan. 15 and 16, the alleged victim, who currently lives in Florida, said a lifetime of drug abuse began after the alleged molestations.
The alleged victim testified that Engelhardt had molested him after a Mass at St. Jerome’s parish during the 1998-99 school year. He said Engelhardt had caught him sipping leftover altar wine. The witness said Engelhardt had referred to his encounters with the boy as “sessions.” Later that school year, the witness said, Avery had sexually abused him on two occasions after telling the boy he had heard about his “sessions” with Engelhardt. The next spring, the witness said, Shero offered him a ride home, but instead took him to a Pennypack Park parking lot and sexually assaulted him.
Last March, days before his trial was to begin, Avery pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child and endangering children. On Jan. 17, the defrocked priest said he pleaded guilty to the crimes because he felt he faced a long term behind bars if convicted at trial.
“I didn’t want to die in prison,” he told the court.
David Clohessy, executive director with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said children don’t report sexual abuse for any number of reasons.
“Most kids don’t tell because they just can’t tell,” Clohessy said in an e-mail last week. “They’re confused, overwhelmed, scared and filled with shame and self-blame. Sometimes, the predator threatens to kill or hurt the child or his or her loved ones. Sometimes, the predator bribes the child with expensive gifts or trips or recommendation letters. Sometimes, the abuse is not violent and feels pleasurable to the child, and he or she has been duped into believing ‘this is our special kind of love.’ ”
Only decades later does the victim begin to understand predator’s actions, Clohessy stated.
“Often, the child has been so shrewdly and painstakingly selected because he or she is particularly emotionally vulnerable or needy or unlikely to tell or be believed,” Clohessy stated.
Sometimes, a molester has a hold over a victim because the molester knows the child has done something – or has lured the child into doing something – wrong or illegal, so the victim becomes convinced that if he or she reports the abuse, the other wrongdoing will become known and he or she will be severely punished.
“The bottom line: Most kids have been taught to respect and obey authority and are shockingly compliant,” Clohessy said.
Defense attorneys in child molestation cases will bring up that victims didn’t tell or didn’t run because doing those things works, Clohessy said.
“They often succeed in casting doubt, and that’s all the defense has to do and often all the defense can do,” Clohessy wrote. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org