The Rev. Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero have been convicted of child sex abuse charges. Both men served in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The police report concerning the abuse charges against both men eventually led to the criminal conviction of Monsignor William Lynn concerning his failure to protect children and report sexual abuse allegations to the proper authorities.
Bernard Shero, a former Catholic school teacher in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was convicted of rape, attempted rape, indecent sexual assault and other charges. Fr. Engelhardt was convicted of indecent assault of a child under 13, corruption of a minor and conspiracy with another priest Fr. Avery.
According to NBC News, “The young man said the abuse started after Engelhardt caught him drinking altar wine in fifth grade. He said Engelhardt told fellow priest Edward Avery about their “session,” prompting Avery to twice sexually assault the boy. And he said Shero raped him in a car a year later, after driving him home after detention.”
The abuse survivor who reported the two men in 2009 is the son of a Philadelphia police officer. The 24-year-old survivor showed great courage in testifying against the two men. The defense attorneys responded by pointing to the survivor’s history of substance abuse, suggesting this reflected on his credibility.
We’ve seen these defense tactics before and they rarely work. Jurors usually understand that survivors of child abuse are left with significant emotional scars. To survive, victims often turn to substance abuse, sexual compulsions, and other unhealthy lifestyle choices in subconscious efforts at avoidance.
Thus, the irony in the defense’s approach in Philadelphia and other cases is that they are blaming the victim for a symptom caused by the abuse. Thankfully, despite these defense tactics, the survivor’s decision to come forward and speak out about the abuse is actually the first step on the road to recovery and healing.