The Mystery of " Sessions"

By Ralph Cipriano
Big Trial
March 4, 2013

It's a lingering mystery from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trials -- where did the term "sessions" come from?

In the 2011 grand jury report, "sessions" is the code name that two predator priests used for having sex with a 10-year-old altar boy known as "Billy Doe."

But the two priests in question -- Father Charles Engelhardt and former priest Edward V. Avery -- went off to their jail cells telling their lawyers that they had never used that word before and had no idea where it came from.

"He [Engelhardt] said that's a phrase that's been put in my mouth, it's been put in Avery's mouth," defense lawyer Michael J. McGovern remembered his client telling him. "That's a term I've never used,"the priest told his lawyer. Furthermore, "He [Engelhardt] has never heard a priest use that phrase,"McGovern said.

Avery was just as mystified, according to his lawyer, Michael E. Wallace. "I was with him 16 months and I never heard him use the term," Wallace said. "He didn't know what the hell he [Billy Doe] was talking about."

Even the district attorney, in the grand jury report issued Jan. 21, 2011, refers to the first time one of the priests mentioned "sessions" to Billy Doe as an "enigmatic statement." The answer to the mystery, however, may have been uncovered by the district attorney's own detectives a year after that grand jury report was issued.

But in the case of any mistakes in that grand jury report, the D.A.'s office doesn't seem to ever run corrections.

It's a small but significant detail, where the word sessions comes from. Some readers on this blog -- you know who you are -- will argue why should we listen to a couple of jailed priests, one of whom has already been convicted of indecent assault on a minor; the other of whom has already pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a minor.

But in the case of the word sessions, the district attorney's story line doesn't make sense, and may be undone by the D.A.'s own subsequent detective work. When you have only a victim's story to rely on, and there is no corroborating evidence, every detail in the victim's story matters.

Let's take a look at what the 2011 grand jury report said about sessions.

The first mention is on page 12. According to the grand jury report, Father Engelhardt "told Billy that it was time for him to become a man, and that 'sessions' with the priest would soon begin. With that enigmatic statement, Father Engelhardt let Billy go to school."

On page 14 and 15 of the grand jury report, it says that two weeks after Father Engelhardt initially raped him, the priest asked [Billy Doe] if he was ready for another session, but Billy emphatically refused ... Father Engelhardt left Billy alone after his unsuccessful attempt to arrange a repeat 'session,' but the boy's ordeal was far from over. A few months after the encounter with Father Engelhardt, Billy was putting the bells away after choir practice when Father Edward Avery pulled him aside to say that he had heard about Father Engelhardt's session with Billy, and that his sessions with the boy would soon begin. Billy pretended he did not know what Father Avery was talking about, but his stomach turned."

According to the grand jury report, after Father Avery had sex with Billy Doe, on page 15 it says, "The session ended when Father Avery ejaculated on Billy and told him to clean up. The priest told Billy that it had been a good session, and that they would have another again soon."

On page 17, the grand jury report said that Billy had physical problems after he was raped by the two priests: In the fifth grade, when Fathers Engelhardt and Avery were having their 'sessions' with him, Billy complained to his mother of pain in his testicles."

[During the Father Engelhardt-Bernard Shero trial, a doctor testified that Billy was examined, but nobody could find anything wrong with him].

This brings us to the district attorney's own detective work.

On Feb. 3, 2012, a year after the grand jury report, Detectives David Fisher and Andrew Snyder interviewed Mark Besben, a counselor at SOAR, a drug and alcohol treatment facility. Besben told the two detectives that Billy was in a group meeting when he introduced himself, saying he was a drug addict who had been sexually abused:

Q. Did [Billy] say in the group who sexually abused him?

A. I am not sure if it was then but the group leader brought [Billy] to me. I then began seeing [Billy] one-on-one instead of him being in group sessions.

Q. During your one-on-one sessions with [Billy], what did you and he discuss?

A. Spent a whole lot of time talking about his sexual abuse.

So "sessions" is a drug counselor's term. Billy was certainly familiar with the lingo; in his 24 years, he's been in and out of 23 different drug rehabs. Is it possible that Billy borrowed the term sessions from his drug rehab counselors and, when he told his story to the district attorney, he put that word in the mouths of two priests who never said it?

Even if drug-addled Billy was innocently blending terms, it still makes you wonder why the district attorney ran with it. The word sessions coming out of the mouth of a priest just doesn't sound right. It makes more sense that a psychiatrist or a mental health counselor would say something like that.

A spokesperson for the district attorney's office could not be reached.

If the D.A. got  sessions wrong, it certainly wouldn't be the only mistake in that 2011 grand jury report. On page 37 under the heading "Father Brennan raped Mark Bukowski," the grand jury report says:

"As Mark lay in that position, Father Brennan hugged him from behind, resting his chin on Mark's shoulder and pulling the boy closer to him. When Father Brennan pulled Mark toward him, Mark felt Father Brennan's erect penis enter his buttocks. Mark began to cry, and asked himself over and over again, "Why is this happening?" as Father Brennan anally raped him. Mark fell asleep that night with Father Brennan's penis still in his buttocks."

For those of you who may have forgotten, Mark Bukowski is the other young drug addict-criminal that District Attorney Seth Williams relied on to make his historic prosecution against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Both Bukowski and Billy Doe have filed civil suits against the archdiocese. Bukowski outed himself publicly. Billy Doe, according to his civil lawyer, wants to remain Billy Doe.

When Father Brennan was tried last year, that rape charge against the priest was reduced to attempted rape, without any official explanation from the district attorney's office. On the witness stand, Buwkoski said that both he and Father Brennan wore t-shirts and boxer shorts the night they spent in Father Brennan's bed. During the night the priest spent with 14-year-old Bukowski, according to Brennan's lawyer, William J. Brennan, no relation, the priest may have committed a "savage spooning," but there was no anal rape.

The jury wound up hanging 11-1 for acquittal on the attempted rape charge because they didn't believe Mark Bukowski. Father Brennan is scheduled to be retried this week.

Besides the mystery of sessions, there's other lingering doubts about the veracity of Billy Doe's stories. Conspiracy theorists have noticed a similarity in Billy Doe's account about Father Avery raping him and an episode from a book that Billy's mother found under his bed.

"When he went to the Christian Academy," Billy's mother told the grand jury in 2010, "We found books under his bed that talked about sexual abuse, and they were from a library and I would be asking him, why do you have these and what are these from? And he would say they were from a girl at school and they needed them for a report, but they never went away. The books always stayed there."

One of the books according to police records, was Know About Abuse, by Margaret O. Hyde. On page 68 it says:

"Although most men who are good companions to young boys have no plans to molest them sexually, Marvin was setting up a special relationship so he could persuade Kevin to provide him sexual favors. When he asked Kevin to undress and sit on his lap, he told him that this would be their special secret. He was never to tell anyone."

When Billy Doe testified before the grand jury, he said that Father Avery took off his clothes, and then "he had me come over and sit on his lap ... and he started to kiss my neck and my back ... He kept on saying, it's going to be OK. Everything is OK. God loves you."

OK, Billy's defenders will say that's a a stretch; except for the lap-sitting, the stories aren't that similar. But look at the spin the district attorney put on the books-under-the bed-story in that 2011 grand jury report:

"It was at an inpatient drug treatment facility that Billy first told someone about his abuse. Billy’s mother testified that she probably should have suspected something before then, because she found two books about sexual abuse hidden under Billy’s bed when he was in high school. She asked him about the books at the time, but he covered up for his abusers by telling her that he had them for a school assignment."

Billy, of course, had another explanation for why he kept the books under his bed. Like a lot of things involving Billy, it all comes back to drugs.

Billy told the district attorney's office a story that didn't make it into that 2011 grand jury report: he said he kept the two books under his bed because they both had hardback covers.

When Billy wanted to say, snort some Xanax, he would reach under his bed, grab a book and crush a few pills on the hard covers of either Child Abuse or Know About Abuse.

That Billy; always coming up with new stories to entertain his friends at the district attorney's office.

Both Billy Doe and Mark Bukowski were obviously unstable, drug-addicted criminals who told stories that were either, take your pick, highly suspect, or simply not credible. Sadly, the district attorney chose to base a grand jury report and the entire historic prosecution of a church on two such unreliable witnesses.


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