Trial to open in notorious archdiocesan abuse case

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September 02, 2012

By Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writer

Charles Engelhardt, a former priest, also faces charges.

Even among the horrors cataloged in the Philadelphia grand jury report on child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, the story of “Billy Doe” stands out.

He was the 10-year-old altar boy and fifth grader at St. Jerome’s parish in the Northeast allegedly serially molested and raped by two priests and a teacher who, prosecutors said, passed him from one abuser to the next.

Ashamed and too frightened to tell anyone, Billy, now 23, got ejected from two high schools, tried to kill himself, and spent years addicted to heroin and pills. Billy Doe is a pseudonym used by prosecutors; The Inquirer has a policy of not identifying victims of sexual assault.”

On Tuesday, two of Billy’s alleged victimizers go to trial in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court in a coda to this year’s landmark trial that ended in the first conviction of an archdiocesan leader for the sexual abuse of a child by a priest.

Msgr. William J. Lynn was convicted June 22 on one count of child endangerment involving the assault on Billy by the Rev. Edward V. Avery in the 1998-99 school year.

That trial lasted three months, in part because prosecutors introduced decades of church records to show how Lynn’s handling of Avery’s case was part of a long-standing practice of covering for and transferring deviate priests.

Lynn, 61, secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, was the archdiocesan official responsible for investigating allegations against priests and recommending action to the Philadelphia archbishop.

The forthcoming trial of ex-priest Charles Engelhardt, 65, and former parochial schoolteacher Bernard Shero, 49, should be shorter – possibly just two weeks – because it will focus only on what happened to Billy at St. Jerome’s.

As with the earlier trial, trying to gauge what will happen is difficult because Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who presided over Lynn’s trial, has left in place the gag order prohibiting lawyers or witnesses from talking to reporters.

Even a hearing on pretrial motions Thursday was conducted in chambers. Documents relating to the hearing were sealed by the judge.

Tuesday’s court session will begin with judge and lawyers – Assistant District Attorneys Evangelia Manos and Mark Cipolletti; Engelhardt’s attorney Michael J. McGovern, and Shero attorney Burton A. Rose – selecting a jury of 12 and several alternates.

According to the 2011 grand jury report, Billy was first abused by Engelhardt after he served an early-morning weekday Mass with Engelhardt at St. Jerome’s.

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