Philly archdiocese settles sexual-abuse civil suit

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By Jeremy Roebuck

Charles Engelhardt, at left, ex-teacher Bernard Shero.

Charles Engelhardt, at left, ex-teacher Bernard Shero.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has settled a civil lawsuit brought by an accuser whose testimony helped convict two Catholic priests and a former parish-school teacher on sexual abuse charges, and aided in the unprecedented prosecution of a church administrator for covering up the priests’ crimes.

In filings Tuesday, Common Pleas Court Judge Jacqueline F. Allen said the plaintiff – a 26-year-old man identified only as “Billy Doe” – had “settled any and all claims” against the archdiocese and two former church officials. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

A spokesman for the archdiocese did not return calls for comment Wednesday, nor did lawyers for Doe.

Their agreement – first reported by the legal blog BigTrial.net – is at least the third this year between the church and its accusers.

Previous agreements have contained clauses barring the parties from discussing their deals publicly.

Doe’s story was arguably the most disturbing in a landmark 2011 report by a Philadelphia grand jury outlining decades of clergy sex abuse in the region.

He told grand jurors he was passed among three men and repeatedly sexually assaulted while serving as an altar boy at St. Jerome’s parish in Northeast Philadelphia in the late 1990s.

Doe’s tearful testimony at a 2013 trial helped convict two of his abusers – the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero, an English teacher at the parish school.

The abuse destroyed his life, Doe said in his lawsuit, and led to years of drug abuse, behavioral problems, and suicide attempts.

Lawyers for the priests and the archdiocese have questioned Doe’s story and motives for years, accusing him of fabricating his claims to cash in by suing the church.

Engelhardt died in prison last year while serving a six- to 12-year sentence. Shero, who was sentenced to eight to 16 years, continues to appeal his case.

A third abuser – Edward V. Avery, now defrocked – pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to five years in prison. He has recanted his confession, but remains in prison.

Prosecutors also pointed to Doe’s abuse in building their case against Msgr. William J. Lynn, who in 2012 became the first Roman Catholic Church administrator in the United States convicted of enabling sexual abuse of children by priests. He, too, is appealing his case.

This week’s court filings in Doe’s civil case indicated that he would not only drop his suit against the archdiocese, but also against two other named defendants: Lynn and the estate of the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, who headed the archdiocese at the time of Doe’s abuse.

Shero, Avery, and Engelhardt’s estate remain parties to the lawsuit. A trial is scheduled for November.

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