Sex Abuse Victim: "I Felt Betrayed"

By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
April 26, 2012

The soft-spoken 49-year-old doctor on the witness stand said he was angry at himself, because the last thing he wanted to do was cry.

But it's not easy to sit in front of a jury of strangers and tell all the tawdry details from your worst personal nightmare. The doctor, however, pulled himself together, and described how he felt after a priest he trusted and admired had just molested him.

"I froze," the doctor said. "I felt betrayed, I felt confused."

The grown men in the front row of the jury box looked uncomfortable as the doctor shared his story. They stared straight ahead, or looked away, as if they shared his anguish. It was a powerful moment in Courtroom 304, and a bad day to be a defendant at the archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial.

He was a sixth grader when he met Father Ed Avery, the assistant pastor at St. Philip Neri in Pennsburg. The boy was impressed by the priest. Father Ed was an "outgoing, energetic, gregarious individual, very charismatic, very popular with the young people," the witness testified. "I got a lot of affirmation from him."

Father Ed took altar boys on trips to the Poconos, Lake Nocamixon, and his beach house down the shore. He also worked nights and weekends as a disc jockey.

One night in 1978, the witness, who was 15 at the time, accompanied Father Ed to Smokey Joe's, a bar on the University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philadelphia. The witness told the jury that he helped the priest set up his equipment. While Father Ed was spinning the hits, the bartender kept sending pitchers of beer over to the DJ's table. A college girl bought more drinks.

The witness said he wound up getting smashed, throwing up, and passing out. That night, he wound up sharing the priest's bed. "I woke up," the witness recalled. "It was still dark. His hand was next to my leg." The witness said he felt the priest's hand move to his thigh, and then, "he placed his hand on my penis," and finally, he tried to slip his hand into the boy's underwear.

"I really didn't know what to think," the witness testified. "I pretended I was asleep." He rolled over, to get away from Father Ed. The next morning, he woke up confused.

"I really admired this guy, I really worshiped him," the witness told the jury. So they stayed friends. When he was about to graduate high school in 1981, the witness said he asked Father Avery if he and his friends could spend Senior Week at the priest's beach house. The priest agreed. He also bought the liquor.

During Senior Week, the priest engaged in wrestling matches with the kids staying over at his beach house. Once while they were wrestling, the witness said, "his hand momentarily touched my genitals. It was brief and I just blew it off."

At 19, the witness went on a ski trip with Father Ed to Vermont. They wound up in the same bed again. And once again, Father Ed molested him. "He put his hand directly on my penis and started to massage it ... I became erect and ejaculated."

In the aftermath, the witness said he was upset, but conflicted. "Part of me still had affection for this person," he said. "He was a big figure in my life."

Finally, in 1992, the witness, then a married 29-yer-old medical student, decided he had to do something about Father Ed. He picked up the phone and called the office of the archdiocese's secretary for the clergy.

In a subsequent letter to the archdiocese, the witness said that he had been "hurt deeply by Father Avery." He was also worried that Father Ed might "act out these behaviors with other boys."

The witness subsequently wrote a letter to Father Avery, and sent it to the archdiocese, asking that it be forwarded to Father Ed. In the letter, the victim said he "had been carrying a burden around for all these years." He thought the priest had "cared about me in a fatherly way." And then Father Ed took advantage of that trust.

In his letter, the victim said the abuse left him "terrified at 15," and also feeling guilty.

"I always blamed myself for what happened," he wrote, and as he reread those words to the jury, the witness began to cry. "I didn't want you to touch me that way," he kept reading. He talked about "the wounds I have suffered at your hands."

"I will no longer carry this burden for you," the witness read, as he continued to cry. He closed the letter to Father Ed, by wishing him "peace on your journey," and "the ability to chose rightly."

"I didn't want this to happen to anybody else," the witness told the jury. Soon after Msgr. William J. Lynn met with the victim. And Father Avery was shipped off to St. John Vianney for psychiatric evaluation.

During an in-patient stay at St. John's, the priest was confronted by the victim. The witness explained how he and his wife met with Father Ed and his therapists, and read him the same letter he read to the jury.

"He just said, 'I had no idea,' several times," the witness testified.

In a subsequent 1996 email, the witness asked Msgr. Lynn what had happened with Father Ed. "Will the archdiocese vouch for the safety of its children," he asked.

In 2002, the witness said he heard from his family that Father Ed was still a priest, and still working as a disc jockey around young people. The witness was upset. "I didn't get feedback that I had been taken seriously," he told the jury. "They didn't see my story as credible for some reason."

On cross-examination, Thomas Bergstrom, a lawyer for Msgr. Lynn, pointed out to the witness that when he was molested at 19, it was not the last time he saw Father Avery. The defense lawyer brought up an accident where the witness was driving, and his fiancee was killed. At that time, Father Avery helped the witness get a lawyer, the defense lawyer said, and, according to the witness's own words, was a big help.

He also read a letter that Lynn had sent to the witness, saying how Father Avery had been shipped to a facility for a psychiatric evaluation. "I think that's fair," the witness said, agreeing that Lynn had kept him informed of what was going on with Father Ed.

When the cross examination was through, after some 20 minutes, the witness was ready to leave the stand, but Judge M. Teresa Sarmina had a question, namely how had the abuse had affected his life.

While defense lawyers squirmed, the witness replied that the abuse had resulted in "a great deal of difficulty for me." He said his experience with Father Ed had a definite impact on his relationships with "older male figures." Basically, he had a hard time trusting them, he said.








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