Rev. James J. Greenfield, Provincial of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, is publicly coming to the defense of his fellow priest, Fr. Charles Engelhardt, one of three men recently convicted in the high-profile Philadelphia clergy abuse trials.
"We cannot just roll over in the face of being falsely accused," Fr. Greenfield says. "That is wrong. We need to stand up for what's right."
Greenfield made his remarks in the latest blog post of journalist Ralph Cipriano, who has bravely exposed the massive fraud and corruption in the prosecution of Catholic clergy in Philadelphia.
Defending the innocent
Historically, as we have reported before, religious superiors have rarely, if ever, publicly voiced support for falsely accused priests. As Catholic scholar Dr. Jeff Mirus once wrote, "The attitude of many bishops seems to have changed from an assumption of innocence to a desire to distance oneself as quickly as possible from anyone who is accused."
So Greenfield's strong words of support are a welcome departure from the usual silence from Church officials in high-profile cases where the guilt of the accused is in grave doubt.
Engelhardt, along with former teacher Bernard Shero, was found guilty back in January of sadistic abuse based entirely on the claims of Dan Gallagher, an admitted drug addict with a lengthy arrest record. Gallagher wildly claimed that he was brutally abused by Engelhardt, Shero, and former priest Edward Avery (all of whom barely knew each other) in the 1998-1999 school year when he was a 10-year-old Philadelphia altar boy.
A family tries to stay strongAs Cipriano also reports, Fr. Engelhardt's family has continued to try to come to grips with the egregious injustice that has been perpetrated upon the innocent priest.
Family members describe "Uncle Charlie" as "the hero" of their family, having presided over every family communion, confirmation, and graduation, as well as a half dozen weddings.
A niece adds, "He was central to our family. Every one of us went to college and graduated because that's what he did."
The entire episode has taken a terrible toll on some family members. Engelhardt's 88-year-old mother used to visit her son in jail every Tuesday until a couple months ago when she fell as she was leaving the prison. She later fell again at home, broke her hip, and she is now confined to bed. Family members also believe the whole ordeal has caused the onset of dementia in the mother, who also suffers from Parkinson's disease.
"We think the only thing that keeps her living is she's holding out for the day he's found innocent," another family member believes.
The moment of truth approaches
The family prays that "the day he's found innocent" is Wednesday (June 12). This is the day that Fr. Engelhardt is scheduled to stand in front of Judge Ellen Ceisler and request that his verdict be overturned.
It will be interesting to see if accuser Dan Gallagher or his civil lawyer appears at the sentencing. Yet we know what Gallagher has been up to in the past few months. While allegedly attending drug rehab in Florida, Gallagher has taken the time to enjoy the sunny beaches of Puerto Rico.
Once again, kudos goes to Ralph Cipriano for his bravery and doggedness in following this story. His latest entry is a must-read.