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Ex-Philly priest denies raping son of officer

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 10:08 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — An imprisoned ex-priest at the center of a landmark Roman Catholic priest-abuse case testified on Thursday that he pleaded guilty to a sexual assault he didn't commit.

Edward Avery, 70, admitted to an earlier abuse complaint, but he said he never had any contact with the accuser in an ongoing criminal trial. He said he took a plea deal in which he admitted assaulting the man because he didn't want to risk a longer sentence if convicted at trial.

Asked if he raped the 24-year-old policeman's son, Avery said: “I did not. So help me God.”

The same man claims he was raped by Avery, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and ex-teacher Bernard Shero, starting when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999.

Engelhardt and Shero are fighting the charges at trial, which is expected to last into next week. Avery's testimony could bolster their defense if jurors believe him over the accuser, a longtime heroin addict who testified Wednesday.

But in questioning by prosecutors, Avery conceded that an admission would hurt him in the accuser's civil lawsuit and perhaps subject him to harassment in prison as an admitted child molester.

A jury last year convicted Monsignor William Lynn, 62, of child endangerment for placing Avery in a parish despite the earlier sex-abuse complaint. Lynn, who served as secretary for clergy at the Philadelphia archdiocese from 1992 to 2004, called it an oversight and apologized to the policeman's son on the witness stand.

Avery's surprise plea on the eve of Lynn's trial changed the dynamics of the case. Lynn's lawyers had hoped to challenge the accuser's credibility, given his drug use and criminal history, and the varying accounts he has given about the abuse.

But Lynn's attorneys decided not to cross-examine him. If they had, jurors would have learned about Avery's guilty plea.

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