Ralph Cipriano, NewsWeek
It took a near-death experience to convince retired Philadelphia police detective Joe Walsh that he couldn’t keep quiet anymore about what he knew.
It was June 11, 2015, just another sunny day down at the Jersey Shore, when Walsh suddenly felt severe pain in his jaw. An old Army buddy noticed the color had drained from Walsh’s face, told him “Sit down!” and called 911.
In the ambulance, a paramedic asked Walsh if he liked the T-shirt he was wearing. “Not particularly,” Walsh replied. “That’s good,” the paramedic said, before he cut it off with scissors. “He hooked me up [to a monitor], and that’s all I remember,” Walsh says. “Everything went white.”
When he came to minutes later, Walsh heard an emergency medical technician say, “Come on, Joe, keep breathing.” Then he heard the paramedic say that when he woke up, he was going to think he’d been kicked in the chest by a horse.
During that ambulance ride, Walsh’s heart stopped beating for two and a half minutes; it took two jolts from a defibrillator to get it going again.
The ambulance raced to the Cape May Court House Armory, so Walsh could be flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery. Doctors there implanted two stents in the left coronary artery and gave Walsh morphine for the pain in his chest.
As he recovered from his heart attack, he endured two painful back operations. And while he dealt with all his physical pain, Walsh realized something else was bothering him: his conscience.
Walsh is renowned among his brethren for his exploits in tracking down cop killers, baby killers and predator priests. Prosecutors will tell you he was right out of central casting when they needed to put a detective on the witness stand to nail their cases.
Ask Walsh about his stellar career, and he’ll tell you he was just doing his job. But there is something he’s especially proud of—in his 35 years on the force, Walsh believes he never locked up an innocent man or woman. Until, that is, his last case, when he was asked to investigate the alleged multiple rapes of a former altar boy a grand jury dubbed “Billy Doe” to protect his identity.
The testimony of that former altar boy landed three men in jail—two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher—for rape. In addition, for the first time in the nation, the altar boy’s testimony also locked up a top Catholic official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Monsignor William Lynn was sent to jail not for touching a child, but for endangering the welfare of a child, by failing to stop a known abusive priest from raping a child.
But Walsh, by doing some old-fashioned detective work, came to believe that the altar boy was lying. And that two of the men a judge and jury had sent to jail were innocent.
It was too late to help one of those men—the Reverend Charles Engelhardt died in jail in 2014, after spending his last hours handcuffed to a hospital bed, still proclaiming his innocence in a dying declaration he made to a fellow inmate. But the other accused man, Bernard Shero, a former Catholic schoolteacher, was doing eight to 16 years, while his family was going broke trying to appeal his case.
After his heart attack, Walsh met with Jeffrey Ogren, Shero’s lawyer, he said he would do whatever he could to help his client get out of jail. When Ogren asked why, the retired cop told him, “I know I’m alive for a reason,” and that was “to right this wrong.”
A 40-Year Cover-Up
Before he hunted predator priests, Walsh chased down cop killers. When off-duty Philadelphia police officer Freddie Dukes was shot dead trying to stop the robbery of a bar on Christmas Eve, it was Walsh who got the killer to confess.
When rookie police officer Daniel Boyle was killed after stopping a suspect in a speeding stolen car, it was Walsh who took the killer’s confession from a hospital bed (after the killer had tried to commit suicide by setting himself on fire).
Walsh’s most famous case involved the disappearance of 2-month-old Zachary Dacri. The baby’s mother, Tanya, told police purse snatchers had kidnapped her son, setting off a massive search for the infant. But Walsh and his partner, Michael Duffy, didn’t believe the mother. She finally confessed that she had drowned her baby in a bathtub, dismembered the body with a carving knife and scattered the remains in the Neshaminy Creek and the Lehigh River. “He was bothering me,” the mother told the detectives.
“This guy is such a legend in the Philadelphia police department and the DA’s office,” says Ogren, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney. “If there was such a thing as a Philadelphia law enforcement hall of fame, Walsh would be in it.”
Walsh was the guy the DA’s office called on to track down dozens of priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese who had sexually abused hundreds of children. But he was able to arrest only one of those priests, because hundreds of sex crimes he helped uncover were so old that the statute of limitations had expired. There was a sinister reason why: Two Catholic archbishops had orchestrated a systematic cover-up that spanned four decades.
In 2011, the Philadelphia DA’s office finally found a sex abuse case involving priests that fell within the statute of limitations, the Billy Doe case. Across the country, that prosecution was hailed as a monumental victory in the war on clerical sex abuse. The DA who indicted Lynn, Rufus Seth Williams, was lionized by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times as the “avenging altar boy.” Sabrina Rubin Erdely devoted a lengthy story in Rolling Stone to Billy Doe, the DA’s star witness, whom she described as a “sweet, gentle kid with boyish good looks” who had been callously “passed around” from predator to predator.
But Walsh knew that the DA’s prosecution was based on cynical, outrageous and often sloppy lies, so he set out to do something about it.
When Hardened DAs Cry
In 2002, Walsh was one of four detectives assigned to DA Lynne Abraham’s groundbreaking grand jury investigation into the sexual abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Abraham wanted her detectives and prosecutors to shred the veil of secrecy that had shrouded the archdiocese for decades, allowing it to harbor pedophiles. It was a daunting task, however, because unlike the local chapter of the Mafia, which was thick with turncoats and snitches, omertà, the code of silence, was still fully in effect in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. And church officials routinely behaved as though the laws of the state didn’t apply to them.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the archbishop of Philadelphia, lived like a monarch in a grand, 12,600-square-foot mansion where “His Eminence,” as he insisted on being called, was waited on by servants as he entertained VIPs. Women routinely bowed before the cardinal and kissed his ring.
Bevilacqua presided over a painful downsizing of the archdiocese, yet showed little restraint in his personal life. In the early 1990s, while he was closing more than a dozen churches and parish schools in the inner city, supposedly because of a lack of cash, the archbishop secretly built a multimedia conference center with a $50,000, custom-made black cherry conference table bigger than the one the same furniture-maker built for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The project was so secret, it was illegally constructed without building permits. But after I wrote about it in The Philadelphia Inquirer, it became an embarrassment for the cardinal and was mothballed.
Bevilacqua blithely ignored both civil laws and church laws. One example: celibacy. In 1995, a veteran employee of the Philadelphia archdiocese filed a workers’ compensation claim against the church. In it, the devout Catholic who worked in close proximity to the cardinal said he had suffered “serious mental and physical distress” because of “the cardinal’s frequent habit of meeting women on airplanes and inviting them to spend time at the cardinal’s mansion.” The employee said he “was troubled by the fact that the cardinal would frequently ride with women in the back of” the cardinal’s limo, and many of those women stayed overnight in the cardinal’s mansion. Court records showed the archdiocese settled the claim by paying the employee $87,500.
When the cardinal needed a break from the city, he often stayed in a 19-room seaside villa owned by the archdiocese that took up an entire block on the boardwalk. A detective who had to serve subpoenas on the cardinal told me Bevilacqua used to dress up in civilian clothes so he wouldn’t be recognized when he hit the casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He liked to gamble there, the detective said, but he was also known for picking up women. She noted that His Eminence was partial to buxom blondes.
While Bevilacqua was partying in those casinos, dozens of priests on his payroll acted as though they had license to rape and molest children. Those priests didn’t worry about being arrested because for decades the archdiocese had followed Vatican law—and flouted American criminal law—by keeping all of its records involving priests accused of sexual assaults locked up in bulging file cabinets in a nondescript room on the 12th floor of archdiocese headquarters. Only top archdiocese officials such as Bevilacqua and Lynn, the archdiocese’s secretary for clergy, had the access code to get into that room.
In the early 1990s, when I was a reporter for the Inquirer, an official from the local carpenters union helped me infiltrate archdiocese headquarters to scope out the cardinal’s fancy multimedia conference center. (He advised me to dress up in a turtleneck and sport coat so we looked like priests.) On the 12th floor, near the locked conference center, the union official pointed out the locked room where the secret archives were stored. I had heard rumors, and seeing that door made me feel nauseated, because I thought that there was no way those secrets would ever be exposed in my lifetime.
In 2002, however, an earthquake hit when The Boston Globe broke its huge story about the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal. The Globe reported that court records showed the Boston archdiocese had quietly settled sex abuse claims involving 70 priests over the previous decade. The aftershocks of that scandal rocked Philadelphia. When reporters asked if the Philadelphia archdiocese was harboring any abusive priests, Bevilacqua had a spokeswoman assure them, “We don’t have the problems of Boston.” She said that in the past 50 years, only 35 priests in Philadelphia had been credibly accused of sexual abuse, and that the cardinal had already gotten rid of six of them.
Bevilacqua knew he had 35 abusive priests on his payroll because Lynn had taken it upon himself to comb through the secret archive files and compile a list. On March 22, 1994, at a monthly high-level archdiocese confab known as the “issues meeting,” Lynn gave the list to Bevilacqua, perhaps expecting to be lauded for his enterprise. But the cardinal, both a canon lawyer and a civil lawyer, knew that if any of those priests got in trouble again, this list was proof of liability and negligence by His Eminence and the archdiocese. So Bevilacqua ordered Lynn to bring him all five copies of the list. The cardinal then dismissed Lynn and ordered Monsignor James Molloy, his assistant vicar for administration, to shred the documents.
After the Boston scandal, Abraham told her team of prosecutors to find out how Bevilacqua knew he had 35 abusive priests. Was there a list? If there was, she wanted to see it. When Abraham called on the archdiocese to turn over the list, it refused. A furious Abraham launched a grand jury investigation of the church, and prosecutors persuaded the grand jury judge to issue a series of subpoenas in 2002 that opened the secret archives—more than 300 case files dating back to the 1940s. In 45,000 pages of documents, the archdiocese had faithfully cataloged the sins of 169 predator priests who had been accused of raping and abusing hundreds of children.
The files, after they were read and redacted by a team of archdiocese lawyers, were transported to a large conference room in the DA’s office. There, Walsh, other detectives and prosecutors assigned to the so-called God Squad spent months poring over them. Abraham wanted her detectives to track down all 169 priests mentioned in the secret archives, as well as their hundreds of victims. “We were swamped,” Walsh recalls.
The hundreds of crimes against children detailed in the archives were so horrific that they reduced at least one hardened prosecutor on the God Squad to tears.
Walsh, a Catholic, says the files were so upsetting that he had to stop going to church: “I lost my religion.”
The Smiling Padre
Father James Brzyski was described in a 2005 grand jury report as “one of the most brutal abusers” in the Philadelphia archdiocese, with 11 known victims, the youngest boy just 10. When Walsh showed up at Brzyski’s home with a search warrant, the priest refused to talk.
Father Stanley Gana, the grand jury said, “was known to kiss, fondle, anally sodomize and impose oral sex [on] countless boys.” His MO was to act like a “sugar daddy” and ply victims with money, vacations and the use of a beach house. When Walsh tracked Gana down at his sister’s house in Northeast Philadelphia, the priest started talking to the detective, then clammed up.
Walsh and another detective, Maria DiBlasi, interviewed Father Edward Avery, a gregarious priest known as “the smiling padre,” who used to moonlight as a disc jockey. When Lynn drew up his list of 35 priests who had been, a church spokesperson noted, “credibly accused,” Avery was the first name on the alphabetical list.
According to police and grand jury records, Avery confessed that back in 1978 he had abused a 12-year-old boy who had assisted him on one of his disc jockey gigs, by fondling the boy’s genitals after he drank too much beer. The priest also admitted to abusing the same victim seven years later during a ski trip to Vermont, when the victim was 19. But both crimes were outside the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, which for a child victim runs up until the victim’s 30th birthday. That meant Walsh had to let Avery walk.
In March 2004, Walsh arrested the Reverend James Behan. A year later, the 60-year-old priest pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a teenager he taught at Northeast Catholic High School for boys in the late 1970s. That crime was also outside the statute of limitations, but Walsh got Behan on a technicality. A judge ruled that the clock on the statute of limitations had stopped back in 1980, when Behan had been reassigned to the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. And the clock didn’t start again until Behan was arrested and brought back to Philadelphia in 2004.
Behan’s victim, Martin Donohoe, 42, was raised in a family that revered priests; he told the judge he was repeatedly molested, beginning when he was 15. Donohoe was one of dozens of victims of clergy sex abuse Walsh interviewed during the grand jury investigation. He recalls that most of those interviews were with middle-aged men who were usually composed at the start. But at some point during the interviews, the victims would offer up a photo of themselves as the innocent little boys they used to be. And by the end of the interviews, the victims would be crying, regressing back to being the innocent boys in the photos.
“They were the toughest interviews I ever conducted,” Walsh says. “It was worse than homicide.”
The Cold, Arrogant Cardinal
The September 21, 2005, grand jury report on sex abuse in the Philadelphia archdiocese that was hailed nationally documented the sins of 63 priests who had raped and sexually abused hundreds of children—boys and girls.
It was a victory, but it felt like a crushing moral failure because none of those abusive priests could be arrested. The grand jury report said that two archbishops, Bevilacqua and the late Cardinal John Krol, had “excused and enabled the abuse” by “burying the reports they did receive and covering up the conduct…to outlast any statutes of limitations.
“What makes these allegations all the worse, the grand jurors believe, is that the abuses that Bevilacqua and his aides allowed children to suffer—the molestations, the rapes, the lifelong shame and despair—were made possible by purposeful decisions, carefully implemented policies and calculated indifference.”
Bevilacqua was brought in 10 times for questioning by that grand jury. One juror described him to a reporter as cold and arrogant. Lynn was questioned by the grand jury at least a dozen times and was more forthcoming than the cardinal. He didn’t duck questions and admitted he had made mistakes.
The grand jury wanted to charge Bevilacqua and Lynn with endangering the welfare of a child by willfully exposing them to abusive priests, but it reluctantly concluded that the state’s child endangerment law applied only to people who had direct contact with children, such as parents, teachers and guardians, and did not apply to supervisors, such as the cardinal and the monsignor.
In 2007, the Pennsylvania Legislature, prodded by a statewide campaign led by Abraham, amended the child endangerment law to include supervisors. But it wasn’t much consolation to the detectives and prosecutors who had worked and cried on the God Squad. The DA’s office had exposed the deep depravity in the archdiocese, as well as the cover-up, but “there was no closure,” Walsh says. “We weren’t allowed to arrest anybody.”
It was a disappointing way for Walsh to end his career. By the time the grand jury report came out in 2005, he had already retired.
The Unshredded List
In 2006, Louise Sullivan, director of operations in the archdiocese’s clergy office, was cleaning when she discovered a locked safe on top of a file cabinet on the 10th floor of archdiocese headquarters. She hired a locksmith to drill open a combination lock. Inside, according to court testimony, she found Lynn’s list of 35 priests, which had been missing for 12 years.
What she found was the copy of the list that Molloy, who had died a few months earlier, had been ordered by Bevilacqua to shred back in 1994. But in a handwritten note found with the list, Molloy wrote that instead of complying fully with the cardinal’s orders, he decided to keep one copy of the list. He didn’t say why.
Armed with that long-lost list of abusive priests, the DA’s office staged a second act for the Philadelphia archdiocese sex abuse scandal and found yet another way to write a tragedy. The first act was a travesty of justice that let the guilty walk; this time, the innocent would be jailed.
One-Upping His Boss
Rufus Seth Williams had been an assistant DA in Philadelphia under Abraham, and one of her loyal protégés. But in 2005, he betrayed his mentor by running against her in a divisive Democratic primary. Williams lost that race, but four years later, after Abraham retired, he ran again for DA and won.
When he took office, Williams made it a priority to one-up his old boss by doing something she hadn’t been able to do. He was determined to lock up somebody in the archdiocese for covering up those horrific sex crimes. His target: Monsignor Lynn—the same guy Abraham and a previous grand jury had stated in writing couldn’t be arrested because the child endangerment law didn’t apply to him. Williams acted as though the law did apply and refused to explain his reasoning, despite being asked about it numerous times over the past five years. He was no legal scholar, but he was a showboat who loved to mug for the cameras, enter dancing contests and celebrity boxing matches and hang out on the sidelines of Philadelphia Eagles home games thanks to the free passes the team gave him.
He was also a shrewd politician: Most Philadelphians were angry about the Catholic Church’s abuse of children and believed somebody should pay for those sins.
On January 21, 2011, Williams announced a grand jury indictment of Lynn for endangering the welfare of a child. The grand jury also called for the arrests of Fathers Avery and Engelhardt, as well as Shero, the schoolteacher, for allegedly raping Billy Doe. Since Avery was a known offender, the DA argued that when the church had allowed him to transfer his residence to another parish and take on a new assignment in ministry, Lynn had endangered the welfare of children. The grand jury also called for the arrest of Father James Brennan for the alleged rape of 14-year-old Mark Bukowski.
“When I heard about this case, I knew Avery was a pedophile,” Walsh recalls—the priest had already confessed to him about molesting a 12-year-old. And Walsh had a low opinion of Lynn, the church official nominally in charge of supervising abusive priests, even though Walsh knew that in the Philadelphia archdiocese, only one man, Bevilacqua, was ultimately responsible. “I knew Lynn was taking a hit for the church,” Walsh says. He didn’t know anything about Engelhardt or Shero, but he figured that was somebody else’s problem—he was enjoying his retirement down at the Jersey Shore.
Yet in October 2011, six years after Walsh retired, then–First Assistant DA Edward McCann asked if he was willing to come back and help out with the new investigation. According to court records, Walsh told McCann, who did not respond to a Newsweek request for comment, that he returned because he was eager to finally put some guilty priests in jail. But when he got a look at the 2011 grand jury report, he saw that there was a lot of detective work left to do. As Walsh later explained in court, he was dismayed to discover that none of the usual steps in a criminal investigation had been done by the DA’s office, even though arrests had been made and Williams had already held a press conference to crow about the indictments. For starters, nobody from the DA’s office had visited St. Jerome’s Church, the alleged scene of the crime spree, to question the teachers, priests and nuns who knew Billy Doe, the former altar boy whose real name was Daniel Gallagher. Walsh also wanted to interview Gallagher and his family, to see if anyone could corroborate the allegations.
“Why did they rush to judgment?” Walsh asks. “Why did they rush to arrest these men before they did the basic investigation?”
Cameron Kline, a spokesman for the DA’s office, tells Newsweek the office has “a long-standing policy to not comment on open and active cases.”
Walsh says it was his job “to go straighten out the mess and do whatever had to be done.… [The DA’s office] hadn’t verified anything [Gallagher] said. The first thing they should have done is polygraph this kid.”
Walsh concluded that the 2011 grand jury report was based on the uncorroborated allegations of Gallagher and Bukowski, both of whom had criminal records and a history of drug abuse. Bukowski was a short-time Marine who had gone AWOL and been discharged under “other than honorable conditions.” Grand jury records show that his mother had accused him of stealing from her; she also told police she was “suspicious” of her son’s claim to the cops that he had been a victim of a violent home invasion. She was right—police records show that the “crime” turned out to be a fake so her son could falsely claim that he had been ripped off for $675.
Police and court records also show that before making his claims against the priest, Bukowski had been arrested three times and had pleaded guilty to charges that included furnishing authorities with false information and two counts of filing a false statement (for the phony home invasion), as well as possession of drugs, forgery, theft and identity theft.
Gallagher had been arrested half a dozen times for crimes that included retail theft and possession with intent to distribute 56 bags of heroin. He was just 22, but he’d been in and out of 23 drug rehabs, clinics and hospitals.
Walsh recalls that when Abraham’s team wrote that 2005 grand jury report, she had senior prosecutors review every line and require documentation for every charge. He says the 2011 grand jury report, however, was shoddy and filled with mistakes. One charge in particular disturbed him. “Eleven times in the grand jury report it says that a child [Bukowski] was anally raped by Father James J. Brennan,” Walsh says. “To most people, it was the most horrendous crime imaginable.” But when Walsh read Bukowski’s grand jury testimony, the alleged victim never said he was anally raped. He also testified that he had his boxer shorts on during the alleged attack.
Walsh says he asked Assistant DA Mariana Sorensen, who Walsh says had never even prosecuted a traffic stop, how could it be anal rape if the victim was wearing boxers? Sorensen, Walsh says, responded that if the priest’s penis had penetrated the alleged victim’s buttocks “ever so slightly,” it constituted rape, even if there was no penetration of the anus.
Walsh’s response: “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
That anal rape claim wasn’t Walsh’s only beef with the 2011 grand jury report. There were at least nine other factual errors, including a blatant rewrite of a witness’s grand jury testimony. Gallagher’s mother, Sheila, a registered nurse, was asked under oath when she had noticed a change in her son’s behavior, a change presumably related to being raped by the priests and the schoolteacher. “At age 14,” she said, “when he entered high school, freshman year at high school, he wasn’t the same child.”
She said her son’s behavior changed drastically after he was thrown out of high school for possessing marijuana and brass knuckles. Before that, she told the grand jury, “he was defined by some people as either Dennis the Menace or the all-American boy.”
But in the grand jury report, that testimony was rewritten to say that “Billy’s mother also told us of a dramatic change in her son’s personality that coincided with the abuse” that allegedly happened when her son was still in elementary school, at age 10 and 11. It was then, the grand jury report said, that “Billy’s mother watched as her friendly, happy sociable son turned into a lonely, sullen boy.”
Seize the Cardinal’s Body
As the trial date loomed for Lynn, Bevilacqua’s lawyers argued that the cardinal was suffering from dementia and prostate cancer, so he wasn’t competent to testify in court, even though prosecutors had him at the top of their witness list.
On November 29, 2011, prosecutors, defense lawyers and Judge M. Teresa Sarmina made the trek out to the grounds of the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in suburban Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, where Bevilacqua lived in an apartment, and deposed him on videotape for four hours.
A month later, Lynn’s lawyers filed a legal brief in which they described the cardinal in that deposition as frail, bewildered and struggling “to the point of tears.
“For the most part,” they wrote, the cardinal’s “memory bank was an empty room.”
Yet Sarmina ruled on January 30, 2012, that Bevilacqua was competent to testify as a witness at the Billy Doe sex abuse trial. A day later, a servant on the grounds of the seminary found the 88-year-old cardinal dead in his home. The next day, the local coroner, at the behest of the Montgomery County DA, dispatched a crew to seize the cardinal’s body for an autopsy. Skeptics knew that Bevilacqua, once the mastermind of this sordid cover-up, was now a liability to the archdiocese because people suffering from dementia can’t control what they say. Some wondered if the cardinal had been the victim of foul play, including the Montgomery County DA, who told reporters, “It struck many of us as odd, as peculiar that the cardinal passed so suddenly away after the court ruling.”
When the coroner arrived at the seminary, the cardinal’s body was gone. The church had already had it embalmed.
With Bevilacqua in a casket, the church would have a much simpler time mounting a defense at Lynn’s trial—they could now blame everything on the dead archbishop.
For the Philadelphia archdiocese, the passing of His Eminence also marked the end of an era. After Bevilacqua’s death, the archdiocese, faced with $11.6 million in legal bills for defending the monsignor in both civil and criminal cases, decided to put two long-standing symbols of the church’s wealth and power up for sale—the cardinal’s mansion and his seaside villa. In September 2012, St. Joseph’s University bought the cardinal’s mansion for $10 million; a couple from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, purchased the cardinal’s seaside villa at auction for $4.5 million.
A ‘Savage Spooning’
Detective Joe Walsh never went to law school, but he was right about whether the alleged assault by Father Brennan of 14-year-old Mark Bukowski constituted rape. Just before the trial started, the district attorney’s office reduced the charge to attempted rape, with no explanation. And during the trial, Bukowski testified that both he and Brennan were wearing boxer shorts during the alleged attack. In the words of Brennan’s lawyer, Bukowski had been the victim of a “savage spooning.”
There was another big surprise at the start of the Billy Doe sex abuse trial. Avery, who was a co-defendant with Lynn and Brennan, rocked the defense table by pleading guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with Gallagher, and of conspiring with Lynn to endanger the welfare of a child. Avery, who was looking at 13½ to 27 years in prison, got a sweetheart deal of two and a half to five years. But when it came time to plead guilty, neither the prosecutors nor the judge specifically asked the defendant if he had committed the crimes he was copping to.
Avery’s guilty plea left Lynn and Brennan as the remaining defendants. Lynn was accused of child endangerment and conspiring with Avery in the rape of Billy Doe; Brennan was accused of the attempted rape of Bukowski.
The trial could have been over in a week, but it dragged on for over a month, because the vast majority of evidence presented by prosecutors amounted to putting the archdiocese on trial for its past sins against children. The judge allowed in as evidence 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse dating back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born. The prosecution argued that the 21 supplemental cases demonstrated a pattern in the archdiocese of covering up sex abuse, and the judge agreed.
For 15 straight days, Walsh testified on the stand about the many sex crimes that had been hidden in the secret archive files. The trial, which got international attention, was the most extensive use of the Roman Catholic Church’s secret archives by prosecutors, not just for a specific criminal case, but for “a wide-ranging indictment of a diocese’s historic handling of abuse cases,” according to Rocco Palmo, author of a Vatican news blog, Whispers in the Loggia.
After 32 days in court, the jury acquitted Lynn on the conspiracy count, but he was convicted of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, and Sarmina sentenced him to three to six years in prison. The jury deadlocked 11–1 in favor of acquittal on the attempted rape charge against Brennan, so the case against him ended in a mistrial.
Lynn’s conviction was overturned twice on appeals. The first time, in 2013, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the state’s original 1972 child endangerment law did not apply to supervisors such as Lynn. But that decision was overruled in 2015 by the state Supreme Court. Later in 2015, the state Superior Court overturned Lynn’s conviction a second time, ruling that Sarmina had abused her discretion by allowing the 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse to be introduced because the prejudicial effect of those cases far outweighed their value as evidence.
The Altered Altar Boy
At a second archdiocese sex abuse trial in 2013, Engelhardt and Shero were tried and convicted for the alleged rape of Danny Gallagher.
Those prosecutors, however, were accused of several acts of misconduct, including pulling a switcheroo with evidence that could have exonerated one of the defendants. Gallagher had claimed that during the winter of 1998, Engelhardt had accosted him after a 6:30 a.m. Mass, and that the priest had raped him a week later, at another 6:30 a.m. Mass. Gallagher got the time of the Mass wrong; it was always at 6:15 a.m. But there was an even bigger problem: His mother kept meticulous monthly calendars that recorded every Mass Gallagher and his older brother, also an altar boy, served at. And those calendars showed that from the beginning of September until the end of December 1998, 10-year-old Danny had never served at an early morning Mass, nor at any during that entire winter when he claimed to have been abused.
Faced with this seemingly insurmountable problem, the prosecutors introduced just the 1999 calendars as evidence. And the defense never called them on it.
At the second trial, the prosecutor, Assistant DA Mark Cipolletti, called Avery—“the smiling padre”—as a witness. The defrocked priest had already pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child—Gallagher—and of conspiring with Lynn to endanger the welfare of that child.
When Avery took the witness stand, Cipolletti asked him a simple question, one nobody had ever asked him before in court. Did you do it? Did you rape the altar boy?
Avery—wearing a prison jumpsuit—shocked the court by saying he had never touched Gallagher. The smiling padre explained he had pleaded guilty to a couple of crimes he hadn’t committed because he was 69 years old at the time, and “I did not want to die in prison.”
Avery’s recanting of his guilty plea was stunning, but it didn’t help the defendants. The jury convicted both of them. The trial judge, Ellen Ceisler, sentenced Engelhardt to six to 12 years in jail and Shero to eight to 16 years.
All told, Gallagher’s testimony had sent four men to jail. Gallagher also sued the archdiocese for civil damages for his pain and suffering, and in a 2015 settlement with the church that was supposed to be confidential, he pocketed $5 million.
A Five-Hour Rape
Despite those convictions and the massive payout, Walsh was certain Gallagher was a liar. And after the retired cop came forward in November 2016 to help Shero get a new trial, he explained why. In a 12-page affidavit filed in court in May 2017, Walsh wrote that when he was prepping Gallagher in the first archdiocese trial against Lynn in 2012, he asked the former altar boy about his claim that he was high on drugs when he told two social workers from the archdiocese some shocking details about what he had supposedly endured—a brutal anal rape that lasted five hours, death threats, getting punched in the face and knocked unconscious, being stripped naked and tied up with altar sashes, getting strangled with a seat belt and being forced to suck blood off a priest’s penis.
Walsh, however, had interviewed Gallagher’s father, a Philadelphia police sergeant, who said his son wasn’t high on drugs that morning when the father drove the son straight home from the drug clinic. In his affidavit, Walsh wrote that he asked Gallagher about “all those graphic details. Did he just make all that up?” According to the detective, Danny Gallagher admitted that “he just made up stuff and told them anything.”
“I asked him if he was lying about anything else, and he would not answer me,” Walsh wrote. “He just sat there and did not answer me.”
After he denied telling those violent stories to the archdiocese social workers, Gallagher told a completely new story of abuse by multiple attackers to police and the grand jury that involved him being forced to perform a strip tease, and engage in oral sex and mutual masturbation with his attackers.
Walsh also testified that when he prepped Gallagher for the trials, he repeatedly questioned him about nine key factual discrepancies in his stories. Gallagher responded, Walsh said, by either saying nothing, claiming he was high on drugs, or telling a new story.
None of this was ever disclosed to the defense lawyers.
Passed From Predator to Predator
As the district attorney’s expert on the secret archive files, Walsh concluded that Gallagher’s various stories of his abuse didn’t square with the church’s documented history of sex abuse. “The most important thing I discovered was that in all of the cases turned over, there was a grooming process of the child and their family over a period of time,” Walsh wrote in his affidavit. “The priest would buy the child gifts and take them on trips, or go on trips and vacations sometimes with the child’s entire family.” Predator priests “would befriend both the family and child before sexually abusing the child.”
But that’s not what happened with Gallagher—his family barely knew the defendants, and the attacks seemingly came out of nowhere.
Another anomaly in the case—the attackers, who barely knew one another, supposedly had confided in one another about the sex “sessions” they were having with the altar boy, so they could pass him around from predator to predator. When Walsh typed his affidavit, he switched to capital letters and boldface type so that nobody could miss his next two points:
DURING MY INVESTIGATION I LEARNED FROM BOTH DANIEL GALLAGHER AND HIS FAMILY THAT THIS TYPE OF GROOMING DID NOT OCCUR WITH EITHER PRIEST OR MR. SHERO.
ALSO, I DON’T RECALL ANYWHERE IN THE SECRET ARCHIVE FILES DID I FIND WHERE A PRIEST WOULD SEXUALLY ABUSE A CHILD AND TELL ANOTHER PRIEST ABOUT IT AND PASS THE CHILD TO ANOTHER PRIEST, OR TO A LAY PERSON FOR THE CHILD TO BE SEXUALLY ABUSED.
In his affidavit, Walsh detailed his ongoing conflict with the assistant DA. “I told Mariana Sorensen several times that I didn’t believe Daniel Gallagher was telling the truth. That I am not able to find any information to corroborate his story of abuse. If anything, I am finding out information that contradicts what he is saying occurred.
“Mariana Sorensen would always say that she believed Daniel Gallagher and believed what he says occurred,” Walsh wrote, adding that at one point, the frustrated prosecutor told him, “YOU’RE KILLING MY CASE.”
Busting the DA
While Walsh was trying to free a man he believed was innocent, the DA who had indicted Shero, Rufus Seth Williams, was making headlines again, but for all the wrong reasons. In January 2017, he was fined a record $62,000 by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics for failing to report gifts and income he received between 2000 and 2015.
In February 2017, Williams was in the media again when he got kicked out of the Union League, a private club housed in a French Renaissance mansion that’s a haven for Philadelphia’s elite. At the Union League, Williams was known for smoking cigars while his bodyguards had to wait outside. This time, however, the club wouldn’t let Williams in because he hadn’t been paying his dues ($4,800 a year). So Williams left the club, and returned with a $5,000 check drawn on the district attorney’s political action committee.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Williams was then under investigation by a federal grand jury for allegedly using political campaign funds to pay personal expenses. Club officials wouldn’t take the DA’s check. Instead, they called the FBI.
The capper for Williams came on March 21, 2017, when the U.S. attorney’s office indicted him for taking bribes in exchange for doing official acts, and for using political action committee funds and government vehicles for his personal benefit. Those funds, the feds said, included money spent at the Union League for a New Year’s Eve party, lavish birthday dinners for the DA’s girlfriend, fitness classes, deep-tissue massages, and deep-pore facials.
Laughed Out of Court
On June 8, Judge Ceisler held a hearing to determine whether Shero deserved a new trial because of the prosecutorial misconduct revealed by Walsh. Assistant DA Patrick Blessington, faced with damaging testimony from a member of his team, decided to retaliate by smearing the detective. “I had a pile of information to cross-examine Joe Walsh with, who, by the way, was not brought in to investigate the case,” Blessington told the judge. “The investigation had been completed. There had been an arrest. [Walsh] was brought in for trial preparation.”
When the judge asked if the DA’s office had also brought Walsh in to question witnesses in the case, Blessington responded, “He did that on his own apparently, Your Honor.”
Spectators in the courtroom burst out laughing, and the judge was incredulous. “He did that on his own?” she asked, referring to more than 30 witness interviews conducted by Walsh.
“There may have been an agenda,” Blessington said of Walsh. “That’s why his credibility is at issue.”
The judge didn’t bite on that. Was it true, she repeatedly asked Blessington, that Gallagher’s mother kept meticulous monthly calendars and that those calendars never mentioned a 6:15 a.m. Mass served by Gallagher?
Blessington replied that all the evidence in the case was turned over to the defense lawyers.
“If [Gallagher] never had a 6:15 a.m. Mass scheduled for that time, that’s the end of the case for the commonwealth,” Ceisler declared.
Walsh, who didn’t attend the hearing, was astounded by Blessington’s attack. “I find it incredible that people I’ve known and worked with for years would just constantly lie to the judge about my character,” he said.
‘I Am Merely a Thankful Beggar’
On June 29, Williams interrupted his political corruption trial in federal court to enter a guilty plea and announce that he was resigning as district attorney immediately. He pleaded guilty to count one of a 29-count federal indictment, a violation of the U.S. Travel Act, where Williams admitted he had traveled to a Punta Cana resort with a Jordanian-born businessman, Mohammad Ali, to take a bribe, as well as to plot to accept more bribes. “I am merely a thankful beggar,” the DA had texted Ali, who, in exchange for providing free vacations for Williams, had asked the DA for help in getting through airport security screenings.
In the plea bargain, the government agreed to drop counts two through 29 of the federal indictment, although Williams had to admit that all those allegations against him were true.
So Williams admitted to taking more bribes from Ali and bribes from Michael Weiss, the owner of a Philadelphia gay bar, who gave the DA 16 round-trip airplane tickets to San Diego, Las Vegas and Florida, as well as a 1997 Jaguar XK8 convertible. In exchange, Williams appointed Weiss, a convicted felon, as a special advisor to the DA’s office and gave him a badge. Williams also wrote a letter on his official stationery to the California Board of Alcoholic Beverage Control, trying to help Weiss retain his ownership of a San Diego bar.
In pleading guilty, Williams also admitted that he stole $23,000 from his own mother, funds that were supposed to go to the Catholic nursing home that was caring for her. Under the terms of the plea bargain, Williams will serve five years in jail, then be on probation for three years.
When he signed that deal, Williams assumed the judge would give him at least a few weeks to get his affairs in order before sending him to jail, as is customary in political corruption cases. But while Judge Paul Diamond was excoriating Williams in court—“I have a guilty plea from the highest law enforcement officer in the city, who betrayed and sold his office”—the former DA glanced nervously over his shoulder at the two U.S. marshals standing directly behind him.
Williams had sought bail, claiming he was no flight risk because he was broke and didn’t even own a car. If he went anywhere, Williams told Diamond, he would have to peddle a bicycle. But Diamond denied bail, and told Williams he didn’t believe anything he said because he didn’t have any credibility left. He then ordered the marshals to take the stunned former DA into custody.
Williams was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs as his ex-wife sobbed.
For the next four months, the former DA was held for his own protection in an 8-by-10-foot prison cell in the Special Housing Unit 23 hours a day on weekdays and 24 hours a day on weekends.
‘You Sold Yourself to Parasites’
On August 14, 2017, the DA’s office, faced with the prospect of a new trial for Shero, negotiated a plea bargain. Shero, who had been sentenced to jail for eight to 16 years, was released on August 17, after serving only four and half years. In exchange, however, he had to plead no contest to three charges: involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, a first-degree felony; and endangering the welfare of a child and corruption of a minor, both first-degree misdemeanors. He also had to register as a sex offender. “He agreed to plead no contest and have a time-served sentence assessed against him so he could immediately be released from prison and end this nightmare,” his lawyer, Ogren, tells Newsweek. “Not just for Bernard, but also for his family.”
Over the past seven years, Shero has gone bankrupt, and his family had spent more than $200,000 on legal fees.
On October 24, 2017, Williams briefly emerged from prison so that Diamond could formally sentence him to five years in jail—and shoot down Williams’s plea that he be allowed to leave jail to visit his ailing mother. “The defendant stole from his mother and now he wants to go see her?” the judge asked with scorn. He then proceeded to rip Williams for his “profound dishonesty.… You sold yourself to the parasites you surrounded yourself with.”
Diamond declared Williams a flight risk and ordered the marshals to take him back to jail, back to solitary confinement.
Even though Shero is a free man, this sorry legal travesty isn’t over. Lynn, whose conviction was twice overturned on appeal, is scheduled to be retried sometime next year on one count of endangering the welfare of a child. A retrial doesn’t make much sense because even if he’s found guilty, Lynn has already served 33 months of his minimum 36-month sentence, plus 18 months of house arrest. Before Williams went to jail, he vowed in a press conference to retry the case, but it will now be up to Larry Krasner, the newly elected DA, to decide whether to go through with Lynn’s retrial.
If Krasner does decide to retry Lynn, the defense’s star witness will be Detective Joe Walsh. “I’d like to see them cross-examine me about the facts in the case and the truth,” he says. “You don’t lock up innocent people.”