PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia man at the heart of a groundbreaking criminal case against the Philadelphia archdiocese has filed a related civil suit, charging that the church let two priests and a teacher serially rape him as a young altar boy.
The 23-year-old man accused the Roman Catholic church in Philadelphia of "callous indifference" to his suffering as a 10-year-old schoolboy.
The suit seeks at least $450,000 in damages from the archdiocese and other defendants. The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported Wednesday on the suit, filed this week by a man identified as "Billy" in a February grand jury report.
Prosecutors have accused the archdiocese of letting "a trio of pedophiles" pass him around from 1999 to 2000, starting when the Rev. Charles Engelhardt forced him to engage in mutual oral sex in a church sacristy at age 10.
Weeks later, the civil suit charges, the Rev. Edward Avery performed oral sex and digital penetration on him after bell choir.
And at age 11, his sixth-grade teacher, Bernard Shero, orally and anally raped him during a car ride, and then put him out of the vehicle to walk home, according to details from the civil and criminal complaints. All three lived or worked at St. Jerome Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, where "Billy" went to school through eighth grade.
The victim has since been hospitalized 10 times for drug and mental-health treatment, most recently just this month, the civil suit said. He had become withdrawn and sullen after the childhood assaults, and turned to marijuana by age 11, and later painkillers and heroin.
"How many people would have welcomed information that would have explained why little Johnny is acting so strange and withdrawn and sullen, and knowing it's not something you did as a parent," said Paul Lauricella, one of several lawyers on the case. "All of these secrets prolonged people's suffering, and even exacerbated it."
Avery had been sent to live at St. Jerome by former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua despite a 1992 stint at a treatment center that stemmed from an earlier sex-abuse complaint, prosecutors said. He was allowed to say Mass and hear children's confessions, and to continue moonlighting as a DJ at school dances and other events.
The grand jury report led to the filing of rape charges against Engelhardt, 64, Avery, 68, and Shero, 48, along with separate rape charges involving another victim against the Rev. James Brennan, also 48.
The longtime secretary for clergy, 60-year-old Monsignor William Lynn, is the first U.S. church official charged with crimes – conspiracy and child endangerment – for allegedly transferring problem priests without warning new parishes.
"The callous indifference manifested by Bevilacqua and Lynn to the safety and well-being of children left in the care and custody of the Archdiocese was a function of their paramount desire to protect the Church, even at the expense of innocent children, who were ravaged, molested, and abused," the civil suit charged.
The defendants plan to challenge the conspiracy and child-endangerment charges at a potentially key pretrial hearing on Friday. A gag order prevents lawyers from discussing the case. However, Lynn's lawyers have argued that he had no children in his direct care and should not be charged with endangerment.
The civil suit accuses Lynn, Bevilacqua and the archdiocese with negligence and recklessness and the alleged rapists with battery.
The archdiocese is not commenting on the lawsuit, spokeswoman Donna Farrell said Wednesday.
Bevilacqua, now 88, suffers from cancer and dementia, according to the grand jury.
His successor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, was sharply criticized for his handling of sex-abuse complaints by the lay chair of the archdiocese's own investigative panel.
The pope last week named Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver to succeed Rigali.
Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.philly.com