It’s pretty safe to say this was not what the prosecution had in mind when they put the Rev. Edward Avery on the stand Thursday. Avery was called to testify for the prosecution in the trial of another priest and a Catholic school teacher on charges they raped an altar boy and student at a parish in Northeast Philly back in 1998-199.
But it sure didn’t sound like it. Avery, who had pleaded guilty to similar charges involving this accuser nearly a year ago, had something else he wanted to say. The defrocked priest quickly turned into what is referred in legal circles as a “hostile witness.”
Avery stunned prosecutors by denying he had ever raped the boy, recanting his earlier admission and guilty plea. Furthermore, the 70-year-old ex-cleric said he only pleaded guilty - in the process admitting he raped the boy - because he was afraid that if he went to trial and was convicted, he would have been sent to jai for the rest of his life. As part of his plea deal, Avery is instead serving two and a half to five years in prison.
Not only does Avery’s testimony throw the case against the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and teacher Bernard Shero into doubt, it also throws a cloud over the earlier conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, who infamously became the highest-ranking church official charged and convicted in connection with the priest sex scandal.
Specifically Lynn, acting in his position as secretary of the clergy for former Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua, was convicted of endangering the welfare of children because of his assignment of Avery. In other words, Lynn knew of Avery's behavior with children and assigned him to a parish where he would be near children anyhow.
Now Avery is saying the attack in question never happened, despite his guilty plea and admission that it did.
As you can imagine, Monsignor Lynn’s attorneys are planning to ask a judge to reconsider his case.
For its part, the prosecution is not budging, saying they believe Avery is more motivated by the civil suit the alleged victim has filed against him.
I’m not sure a jury is going to see it that way.
“I didn’t want to die in jail,” Avery testified. “I was looking at 60 years in prison. Every motion we filed had been turned down, so my options were less and less. So that’s why I chose to plea.”
But as to the specific allegation in this case, Avery was clear. Asked if he raped the 24-year-old policeman’s son, Avery said: “I did not. So help me God.”