The conviction of Philadelphia's Msgr. William J. Lynn last June was historic and widely trumpeted by an overheated media, as Lynn became the first member of the Catholic hierarchy to be found guilty in a criminal court for endangering children.
And the sole reason Lynn sits in jail today is because former priest Edward Avery had pleaded guilty to sexually violating a 10-year-old boy in the late 1990s. Prosecutors claimed that Lynn should not have placed Avery into a ministry assignment because the priest had a prior abuse accusation dating back to the 1970s. Had Lynn kept Avery out of public ministry, prosecutors charged, he would not have been able to abuse the 10-year-old.
But in a truly shocking development, Avery took the witness stand today in a Philadelphia courtroom and recanted under oath his guilty plea.
This remarkable turn-around indicates that Msgr. Lynn may likely be sitting in jail based on a crime that never even happened!
A trial under the radar
Today, Avery appeared as a witness in the trial of accused Catholic priest Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former teacher Bernard Shero. The alleged 10-year-old victim is now a 24-year-old admitted drug addict and criminal, and he has claimed that the three men – Avery, Engelhardt, and Shero – all sexually assaulted him during the late 1990s when he was a student at St. Jerome's Parish in Philadelphia.
The accuser's claims are quite wild, indeed, and Engelhardt and Shero have vehemently denied the charges against them.
Why the turnaround by Avery?
Yet Edward Avery pleaded guilty to the charge against him last March before going to trial. The obvious question people are asking is, Why?
Avery pleaded guilty because he faced a possible sentence of two decades in prison if found guilty by a jury, and prosecutors offered him a very generous 2 1/2 to 5 years.
Last September we learned that Avery has not only denied that he sexually assaulted the boy but that he has said that he did not even know the accuser.
Avery had already been removed from the priesthood in 2006 for abusing a teen boy back in the 1970s, and it was an incident that had already received widespread media attention in Philadelphia since 2003. Avery knew that the past incident could probably be used as a powerful cudgel against him in a trial.
Avery also likely saw that the judges who were overseeing his case, Judge Cardwell Hughes and Judge Teresa Sarmina, were very heavily biased in favor of the prosecution during the numerous pretrial proceedings.
Avery delivered some alarming information during his testimony today. As the excellent Ralph Cipriano has reported at the Big Trial blog:
"The rape that Avery pleaded guilty to supposedly happened in a storage closet at St. Jerome's parish after a 6:30 a.m. Mass back in 1999. But Avery said he almost never said Mass at St. Jerome's, because he was employed as the chaplain at Nazareth Hospital. He was at the hospital every day of the week, beginning at 3 a.m., and he stayed on the job until 8 p.m., Avery said.
"This was his routine 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Avery testified. At Nazareth Hospital, Avery said Mass every day, and the service was televised, he testified."
This latest development in the Philadelphia saga is truly stunning, indeed. Avery had been called to the stand as a prosecution witness, but in was not long before Judge Ellen Ceisler declared the former priest a hostile witness.
Stay … tuned. And for the best day-to-day coverage of the Philly trial, we again highly recommend Ralph Cipriano's Big Trial blog.