Opening statements in priest abuse trial

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philly.com

14 January 2013

Allison Steele, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Story Highlights

  • Engelhardt and Shero are the last two of five people charged for outlining a cover-up of clergy sexual abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
  • Defense attorneys told jurors that the victim has been telling different versions of the abuse since 2010.
  • The alleged victim’s mother is expected to be the first witness to take the stand Monday
The accused: Charles Engelhardt, at left, ex-teacher Bernard Shero.

The accused: Charles Engelhardt, at left, ex-teacher Bernard Shero.

Picture of defense attorney Michael McGovern, representing Father Charles Engelhardt arrives at the CJC on Monday morning. The trial for Father Charles Engelhardt and catholic school teacher Bernard Shero started at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia on Monday, January 14, 2013. The two are accused of alleged child sex abuse. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGR 

The trial of a priest and former parochial-school teacher charged with sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy at a Northeast parish in the late 1990s opened this morning in Common Pleas Court, with prosecutors portraying the men as predators who shattered the boy’s childhood, and caused him to turn to drugs to numb his pain.

Defense attorneys told jurors that the boy, identified in a grand jury report as “Billy Doe,” has told many different versions of the abuse since reporting it in 2010. They described him as a troubled, now-24-year-old man who has spent his life in and out of jail and drug treatment programs.

Defense attorney Michael McGovern, who represents the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, also spoke of a “presumption of guilt” sweeping the country when in comes to Catholic priests.

“People look at a Roman collar and they see a bulls-eye,” McGovern said Monday in his opening statements.

Engelhardt, 66, wore his collar in court Monday. He and 49-year-old Bernard Shero are accused of molesting a fifth grader at St. Jerome’s parish and school in 1998 and 2000, when the boy was a fifth-grader at St. Jerome’s parish.

Jury selection concluded last week, and the final panel is composed of eight men and four women, with four male and two female alternates.

The trial before Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler is expected to last at least two weeks.

Engelhardt and Shero are the last two of five people charged as a result of the 2011 county grand jury report outlining a cover-up of clergy sexual abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Last year’s landmark three-month trial ended June 22 when the jury found Msgr. William J. Lynn guilty of child endangerment. He became the first church administrator convicted for a priest’s sexual abuse of a child.

Lynn, 62, who as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 was responsible for investigating allegations against priests, was sentenced to three to six years. He is in a state prison and has appealed his conviction.

Another priest pleaded guilty before trial, and a priest tried with Lynn is to be retried this year after the jury could not reach a verdict in the charges against him.

The alleged victim’s mother is expected to be the first witness to take the stand this afternoon.

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