Jury deliberations continue today in sex-abuse case

Jur­ors re­turned to their talks this morn­ing in the case against the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former teach­er Bern­ard Shero. They are ac­cused of sexu­ally ab­us­ing an al­tar boy at St. Jerome's par­ish in North­east Phil­adelphia in the late 1990s.

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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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