Abuse case against Phila. priest, ex-teacher nears end

Posted: January 24, 2013

After eight days of testimony, the Philadelphia jury in the child sex-assault trial of a priest and a former parochial-school teacher is expected to hear its final witnesses Thursday.

Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler told jurors Wednesday that they would begin deliberations this week.

The judge's comments ended a day in which 20 defense witnesses testified for the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero.

What remains unknown is whether either man will testify in his defense for the alleged serial rape of a 10-year-old altar boy in 1998 and 1999 at St. Jerome's church in Northeast Philadelphia.

The parties have been under a strict gag rule since both men were charged in February 2011 as part of a county grand jury probe of alleged clergy sex abuse of children in the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Of 20 witnesses Wednesday, 19 were character witnesses - 13 for Engelhardt and 6 for Shero - who described the men as peaceful, law-abiding citizens.

The exception - Louise Hagner, the archdiocesan victim-services coordinator - spent the entire morning on the witness stand amid cross-fire questioning from defense and prosecution lawyers.

The defense called Hagner in their continuing attack on the credibility of victim-accuser "Billy Doe."

Billy, now 24, alleges that Engelhardt, 66, and Shero, 49, raped and assaulted him when he was in fifth and sixth grades at St. Jerome's.

Defense lawyers maintain that the assaults never happened and have portrayed Billy as a troubled, drug-addicted man trying benefit from the church sex-abuse scandal by suing the archdiocese.

Hagner, who said she fields sex-abuse allegations against priests and church personnel and arranges for social support services, testified about her telephone and in-person interviews with Billy on Jan. 30, 2009, a day after he called the archdiocesan sex-abuse hotline.

Questioned by Michael McGovern, Englehardt's attorney, and Shero lawyer Burton A. Rose, Hagner read from her interview notes and testimony before the grand jury.

Hagner's account of what Billy told her was at odds with the accuser's own testimony last week.

It contained far more physical violence with Billy alleging, according to Hagner, that Engelhardt and Shero and another priest had punched, choked, and threatened him before the rapes.

In his own testimony, Billy told the jury he remembers nothing he told Hagner because he was high on drugs.

Hagner testified that Billy, though he wept, seemed sober and told her he had been "clean for six months."

Hagner, however, appeared to wilt under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, who suggested she was more interested in documenting Billy's case to help the church prepare a lawsuit defense than provide social services.

"I am proud of all the work I did for victims," Hagner said.

Cipolletti noted that Hagner previously described Billy's speech as "slurred." He also questioned why Hagner noted the names of Billy's lawyers but did not ask him about discrepancies in his stories.

"I am not an investigator," retorted Hagner, adding that her job was to record the allegation, make sure the abuse was reported to civil authorities and archdiocesan lawyers, and arrange for counseling and services for the victim.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

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