News24

Priest, ex-teacher face sex trial

2013-01-14 10:02

Philadelphia - A troubled policeman's son who has accused two Roman Catholic priests and a teacher of raping him during boyhood is set to testify at a Philadelphia trial this week - and have his startling claims challenged for the first time.

The young man, identified by the pseudonym Billy in a 2011 grand jury report, testified in a landmark priest-abuse case last year. But in a strategic move, lawyers for the church official on trial never cross-examined him.

Monsignor William Lynn's lawyers doubted Billy's story, but they feared their questions would open the door for jurors to learn that one of the accused priests had taken a plea deal.

Lynn later became the first US church official ever convicted over his handling of abuse complaints. He's serving three to six years in prison for endangering Billy's safety by moving the Reverend Edward Avery, a suspected paedophile, to St Jerome's Parish.

"I thought I did something wrong - and it's a priest," Billy testified about his 1999 encounter with Avery. "I didn't think anyone would believe me."

The other two rape suspects go on trial Monday, and Billy's credibility - under potentially fierce cross-examination - may determine the outcome.

Gag order

The Reverend Charles Engelhardt, an Oblate of St Francis, and Bernard Shero, Billy's sixth-grade teacher, have pleaded not guilty to rape, indecent assault, child endangerment and other charges.

 Both Engelhardt, aged 66, of Wyndmoor, and Shero, aged 49, rejected plea offers of 7 to 15 years in prison, and face far more time if convicted. A gag order prevents them or their lawyers from commenting on the case.

In the adult Billy, the jury will see an accuser who's spent much of his life battling drugs, alcohol and arrests for petty crimes. By his own count, he's been in rehab nearly three dozen times. He told the jury in Lynn's trial that he'd started smoking marijuana at age 11, a year after the abuse began. He then moved on to heroin, painkillers and other drugs.

According to the grand jury report, Billy's abuse began after Engelhardt caught the 10-year-old drinking altar wine at St Jerome's Parish in northeast Philadelphia.

The priest let him get drunk, showed him pornography and assaulted him the next week after Mass, the report said. Months later, it was Avery's turn, the report said. Avery twice assaulted the boy after Mass, after forcing him to do a striptease, according to the report and Billy's testimony.

The abuse by Shero allegedly started a year later, when the teacher offered him a ride home. Shero instead took him to a park where he raped him, the grand jury said.

Stark contrast

Billy has a civil lawsuit pending against the Philadelphia Archdiocese that's on hold until after the criminal trial. His civil lawyer has described him as ready, if nervous, to testify.

"He's been through it once, but in a very different scenario," lawyer Slade McLaughlin said last fall, as an earlier trial date approached. He did not immediately return a call for comment on Friday.

Billy spent only an hour or so on the witness stand at Lynn's trial.

The jury saw photographs of him as a tow-headed altar boy, a stark contrast to the brooding, dark-eyed 24-year-old they saw in court. He told jurors he had kept the assaults secret for years, until they spilled out at a drug therapy session. He reported them to authorities in 2009.

It's not clear whether the jury will hear about his arrest record or Shero's alleged suicide attempt on the eve of his January 2011 arrest. Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler closed a pretrial evidence hearing to the public on Thursday, and has kept key pretrial filings under seal.

But prosecutors have said they might call Avery to the witness stand. At his March plea hearing, he admitted sexually assaulting Billy and conspiring with Lynn and others to cover it up. He got a relatively light two to five years in prison.

Proof positive

Lynn's lawyers, in a post-trial motion, said a defence polygraph had cleared Avery of assaulting Billy. They argue that Avery never met the boy but took a sweetheart deal to avoid being prosecuted for abusing other children.

Prosecutors, in court papers, have stood by the integrity of Avery's plea.

And McLaughlin, Billy's civil lawyer, has called the plea "proof positive" that his client's claims are true.

Comments
  • fidel.uncensored - 2013-01-14 10:11

    Christians!

      christoffvstaden - 2013-01-14 13:16

      @toby - How does Atheitis help children? For one, I am sure he DOESN'T rape children thereby creating new problems! As far as helping abused children is concerned, if it wasn't for this retarded religion we wouldn't have nearly as much of this nonsense going on in the world! You ask how he helps abused kids. By speaking out against it, by opposing it, by challenging the likes of you to see the dark side of religion, and hopefully one day we will have a healthy society free from this ulcer called religion. As for the kids in need of help right now, there are people who are trained to help them, who have the skills to do so.

      christoffvstaden - 2013-01-14 13:23

      The only way society is going to move forward is to have these disgusting religions & their clergy wiped off the face of the earth. Here is a man of god, who cannot even accept that he has been caught and tries to wiggle his way legally out of taking responsibilities for his actions. How sick is that?

      christoffvstaden - 2013-01-14 14:15

      Toby, you are passionate and have a skill to help children, that is great. I financially support organisations where I feel help is needed & that is in line with my values. Each one decides for himself how he wants to contribute. I contribute in those areas of gay rights, human rights & atheism education(both nationally and internationally) But don't try and spin this to make it seem that christians only are charitable.

  • gert_swart - 2013-01-14 10:42

    So, christianity has no positive effect on the morality of their priests. It only degrades human value. Then the pope has the nerve to attack homosexuals? According to them sex with men is sin, but sex with boys is fine?

  • erika.bezuidenhout.102 - 2013-01-14 10:55

    The institution with the highest statistics of child rape. AND they always get a sweet deal and then everything is swept under the carpet, the priest is sent away to another parish where he start all over again. Their punishment will be so much more severe. I do not accept that church, it is rather a haven for the devil. It would be better for those men to marry and have children of their own. They leave the one and substitute it with another, rather evil, thing. and the worst of it all this specific church have so many followers that are being fooled by these so-called leaders of followers and priests for the christian faith. I am not saying all their priests are bad, but there are hundreds of cases like this one, and hundreds of priests that were involved in similar cases, and I cannot recall any jail sentences given to these men.

  • Muhammed Khan - 2013-01-14 11:18

    Its just silly to blame the religion for the actions of a few...what percentage of christians commit such acts? It seems like most of the comments made here are from people who want to just validate their beliefs...or lack there of

      goldd.goldfinger - 2013-01-14 11:52

      @Muhammed..its also very silly to ignore the fact that these men, give up sex for a life of celibacy in order to be closer to God than us sinners,..instead they end up disgustingly close to little boys ,, Whats also important to note is that these guys use their positions as priests to prey and exploit the gullible church sheep,..whilst as usual God watches the abuse without any care or remorse..

      Elisha - 2013-01-14 12:41

      This has got nothing to do with God. God doesn't make these men do these things. Paedophile s usually become teachers, priests etc so that they can get away with such disgusting behaviour. But claiming Christians are screwed up is a very big generalization and it's not fair on the millions of Christians out there that would never consider doing anything like this. Don't blame God, blame the sicko who molested the children. Just like you don't blame guns for killing people. On the flipside of the coin, there are many screwed up families out there, who falsly accuse men in power, in order to try and get a financial settlement out of them. Not saying that is the case here, but it is possible. The Jesus i follow, He teaches love and respect and peace. The Jesus i know is all about love and Goodness... Religion is such a waste of time. Jesus is truth and not religion!

      goldd.goldfinger - 2013-01-14 12:49

      @Lion How can we excuse God from the picture when his henchmen are molesting kids right in his house (church)..Why cant he intervene and save the innocent boy, is he not present in his own house?...What are the chances that your God ever does anything if he wont intervene to save innocent kids from rape and abuse in his own house..Whats the point of praying for parking space when God cant/wont save children in his house from rapists acting in his name...

      merry.martin.944 - 2013-01-14 13:16

      @Lion: I agree that it is not God who makes these men do such things, however, one can hardly blame others for holding religion (Christianity, in this case) accountable for the actions of priests. In many cases, (if not most/all), the church has been aware of the despicable deeds of their priests, and instead of dealing with those priests in terms of the law, they simply move them to a new parish. The new parish then becomes the priest's new playground. I can quite understand why people turn away from churches. If these are "men of God", what does it say about the religion in general? Peace and blessings.

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