by Rachel Ogbu
A troubled 24-year-old testified Tuesday January 15 that he became addicted to heroin dropped out of school and lived a lonely life after two priests and a Catholic school teacher molested him when he was only 11.
The son of a policeman has become a key figure in the decade-long prosecution of priest sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. His stunning complaint, filed in 2009, led to last year’s landmark child-endangerment conviction of a Philadelphia church official who transferred accused pedophile-priests to new parishes at the behest of two archbishops.
According to the trial witness Tuesday, defrocked priest Edward Avery made him do a striptease dance and engage in oral sex after a Saturday afternoon Mass in 1999.
“He just sat there with this eerie smile. Like he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but there,” the accuser testified. “He said, `This is what God wants.’”
The accuser said he walked home afterward and took a shower.
He said he was first abused at St. Jerome’s Parish in northeast Philadelphia after Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 66, of Wyndmoor caught the 10-year-old drinking altar wine. And he said Shero sexually assaulted him when he drove the boy home after detention.
Avery has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the slightly built altar boy. But the Engelhardt and ex-teacher Bernard Shero, 49, of Levittown are fighting the charges at trial.
Jurors saw boyhood pictures of the witness in his school uniform and altar boy cassock, a sunny contrast to the man with brooding eyes and a flat affect before them. His monotone voice wavered only once or twice, when he acknowledged that he was too young to understand the sexual acts that allegedly unfolded in church anterooms or a parked car.
This is the second time he’s testified in open court, but he’ll likely face his first cross-examination on Wednesday.
Defense lawyers will no doubt attack inconsistencies between his testimony and that of other witnesses when the trial resumes Wednesday. They include somewhat different takes on an alleged disclosure to a high school friend as the two drank beer in 10th grade, and of their discussion when they ran into each other at a bar last year. The friend said that he first asked if anything had come out of the topic they’d discussed, while the accuser said he had brought it up. And the accuser said he had forgotten telling the friend about it.
Both discussions occurred while they were drinking, as the defense lawyers noted.
One has called priests “a bull’s-eye” for dubious accusers looking for a church payout.
Avery, who moonlighted as a disc jockey and was nicknamed “the Smiling Padre,” is expected to testify for the government during the weeks-long trial.
Before his transfer to St. Jerome’s, he admitted to church officials that he had fondled a teen accuser, according to church documents aired at the trial of the church official, Monsignor William Lynn. Avery’s testimony would be his first in open court about the priest-abuse scandal.
It’s not clear if he’d be asked about a string of other accusers who have come forward since his 2011 arrest. He has not been charged in those cases.
The accuser was expelled from a Catholic high school in ninth grade and asked to leave a private Christian school two years later. He said he now works for relatives in Florida, and, after 23 stints at rehab, has been sober for 12 months.
He told jurors that he didn’t tell his parents about the abuse because he thought he’d get in trouble. He described the priests and nuns at his school as “almighty.”
“They’re basically another parent, but a little holier,” he said