2nd Philly priest-abuse trial set for Oct. 22

PHILADELPHIA - September 7, 2012

Defrocked priest Edward Avery, 70, would be the first admitted priest-pedophile to testify in open court during the 10-year investigation of church abuse within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

He pleaded guilty to sexually abusing one boy in 1999, although five other accusers have come forward in recent years. The Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 65, and ex-teacher Bernard Shero, 49, have pleaded not guilty to charges they raped Avery's victim.

Their trial, set to start this week, has been rescheduled for Oct. 22.

The case is expected to hinge on the credibility of the accuser, a troubled 24-year-old policeman's son who said the three men passed him around for sexual gratification, starting when he was 10 years old. He alleges that Engelhardt abused him first, and told Avery, who then demanded his own "sessions" with the boy in the church sacristy at St. Jerome's in northeast Philadelphia.

Shero, his sixth-grade teacher, allegedly raped him after offering him a ride home from school.

The young man came forward in 2009, under newly expanded time limits for sexual-abuse victims, and has a civil lawsuit filed against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Prosecutors want to tell jurors that Shero attempted suicide the night before he was to surrender on the charges. Other pretrial issues have been filed under seal. They could involve the extent to which jurors will learn about the accuser's criminal record, which includes a string of arrests for drugs and petty crimes, or his nearly three dozen stints in drug rehabilitation.

The accuser testified in another recent church-abuse trial that he started using drugs at age 11. His lawyer said recently that he's now working and doing well.

The trial is expected to last about three weeks. Engelhardts's lawyer, former prosecutor Michael McGovern, said his defense witnesses will take more than a week. Shero's lawyer, Burton Rose, said his case will be brief, perhaps only an hour.

The trial, delayed this week due to a lawyer's family emergency, will be heard by Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler, a former integrity officer for the Philadelphia Police Department.

Engelhardt belongs to a religious order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.

Avery, who went to prison soon after his surprise plea in late March, is serving a 2-1/2- to 5-year term in western Pennsylvania, but has been moved to the crowded Graterford Prison in Philadelphia for the trial. His lawyer asked Friday that he return to the Laurel Highlands prison given the delay.

"We've got a 70-year-old prisoner sitting in Graterford. That's pretty tough," lawyer John Donohue told a judge Friday.

It's not clear if prison officials will accommodate the request.

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