No Return to the Courtroom for Father Avery
By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
April 26, 2012
Shortly before 2 p.m., Jeff Lindy, one of Msgr. William J. Lynn's defense lawyers, stood up in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center to announce a deal.
The Commonwealth and the defense had agreed that there would be no questions on cross-examination of the former altar boy raped in 1998 by Edward V. Avery, the former archdiocese of Philadelphia priest now serving a prison sentence of 2 1/2 to 5 years.
Avery pleaded guilty on the eve of the archdiocese sex abuse trial to charges of conspiring to endanger the welfare of children, and raping a 10-year-old. His former victim, now 23, testified in court Wednesday about what the priest did to him. He described two sessions of oral sex and masturbation that took place after Mass in a supply closet at St. Jerome Church in Northeast Philadelphia.
Defense lawyers seemed eager to cross-examine the former altar boy, who was tearful, and did not appear overly confident on the witness stand. But the defense decided that the price of trying to poke holes in the witness's story was too high.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington had warned the defense that if they attempted to challenge the altar boy's testimony on the facts, the prosecution would tell the jury about Avery's guilty plea. The jury was never told why Avery disappeared from the defense table.
And Judge M. Teresa Sarmina had warned that if a contest arose over the former altar boy's testimony, she might allow five additional victims to appear in court who came forward in 2009 and 2010 to say that Father Avery had abused them back in the 1970s.
The final risk weighed by the defense was the specter of Avery being dragged into court in his prison jump suit to explain his whereabouts. That possibility was suggested twice by Judge Sarmina. So in the end, the defense it was wiser to let the former altar boy tell his story unchallenged. The thinking was, if they were able to poke holes in the victim's story, so what? Avery has already pleaded guilty to rape.
So the prosecution was able to present their themes unchallenged to the jury, such as the church's penchant for secrecy, and lack of concern for the welfare of other possible victims.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti asked the witness if he had ever been told that Father Avery was accused of molesting another altar boy at a previous parish.
"No," the witness said.
Father Avery wasn't the first priest who abused him, the witness said. He testified that he had been sexually abused in the sacristy by another priest at St. Jerome's, Father Charles Engelhardt. The priest was arrested in February 2011 on charges of oral sodomy and molestation.
In court Wednesday, the witness said the priests at St. Jerome had a code word for sexually abusing altar boys -- they called it "sessions."
A few weeks after he was abused by Father Engelhardt, the witness said Father Avery took him aside, and said, "He heard about my sessions with Father Engelhardt, and that our sessions would begin soon."
The priest took the boy into a storage closet, shut the door behind him, and put some music on a CD player. "It sounded kind of churchy," the witness recalled, but with more of a beat. "He had me doing a strip tease for him."
The witness recalled "swaying" while he was taking off his clothes, and Father Avery watching him "with this eerie smile."The priest took off his clothes, and "he had me sit on his lap," the witness said. Then the priest said it was "time for me to become a man."
Afterwards, "He told me I did good, he told me to clean up, and he left," the witness said. He did not tell his mother or his father, a sergeant in the Philadelphia police department. "I was scared; I thought I would get in trouble," the witness told the jury. "I didn't think anybody would believe me."
Two weeks later, the witness said, Father Avery repeated the abuse. When the priest was finished, the witness testified, he said, "God loves me, and he'd see me again."
But the witness said after the abuse, he made sure he never served as an altar boy at any Mass said by Father Avery.
The witness said his life deteriorated after that. He started drinking and smoking pot. He took perkocets, oxycotton, xanax and heroin. "I think I'm up to 23 treatment facilities," he told the jury.