By Kenneth Lipp and Dustin Slaughter
Editor’s note: In keeping with the Tao of Journalism, the name of the victim’s mother and the date “Billy” contacted the Archdiocese have been amended. We apologize for these errors.
Today’s jury trial in the case of Father Charles Engelhardt and teacher Bernard Sheros began with a botched arraignment in which Bernard Sheros was incorrectly asked to enter a plea on the charge of conspiracy to commit sexual abuse of a 6th grade Catholic school student in 1999. The charge of conspiracy, the prosecution affirmed shortly after court began, does not apply to Sheros. Father Engelhardt was also asked to enter a plea on the charge of rape, however Judge Ellen Ceisler instructed the jury that Engelhardt was not being currently arraigned on that charge, only of sexual assault.
Assistant District Attorney Evangelina Manos, one of two prosecutors in the case against Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Sheros, called her first witness this afternoon. The mother of the complainant testified about a drastic change in her son’s demeanor during his 9th grade year, while at Archbishop Ryan Catholic High School, approximately 3 years after the last incident of alleged abuse. She also testified about her son’s first account of the crimes, when “sometime after the age of 18” he told her and her husband that he had been “sexually abused by a priest.” She stated that at that point he would not say anything further about the assault.
According to the prosecutor, “Billy” contacted the Archdiocese abuse hotline and reported that Father Engelhardt had sexually assaulted him during his time at St. Jerome. After this initial contact in January of 2009, the Archdiocese attempted to reach out to the victim by phone but the victim refused further contact. After this, Archdiocese staff visited “Billy”‘s home but were denied entry by the father. During this visit, the victim later met with staff outside his home, where he related the alleged abuse.
I felt like [Billy] should never have gone to the Archdiocese,” the victim’s mother said of ‘Billy’s’ initial contact. “It was like going to the enemy.
Father Engelhardt’s defense attorney, Michael McGovern, submitted prior Grand Jury testimony by the victim’s mother, and quickly pointed out inconsistencies between statements given then and at today’s court appearance. Among these: When “Billy” first received mental health counseling. As we reported earlier today, the defense’s strategy is clearly to reveal inconsistent testimony from the victim and his family in an effort to create enough reasonable doubt.
McGovern also began a line of questioning that appeared to reveal another prong of the defense’s strategy: that the victim’s accusations are part of a profiteering scheme to win a lucrative settlement from a pending civil suit against the Archdiocese. He also took the unusual step of requesting the victim’s attorney in the civil suit, who was present in the gallery, stand up and be recognized by the jury. The judge curtly denied McGovern’s request, saying repeatedly: “I’m not going to do that.”
Testimony will resume tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center, Room 304.