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Arguments in sex abuse trial of Philadelphia priest kick off

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Prosecutors on Monday laid out a case of what they described as vile sexual attacks on a child by a priest and a former teacher, opening a new chapter in the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Reverend Charles Engelhardt, 66, and former teacher Bernard Shero, 49, are accused of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, endangering the welfare of a child and corruption of a minor, in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia.

A third accused abuser, former priest Edward Avery, 71, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and is serving a prison sentence of 2 1/2 to 5 years.

The district attorney's office said if Engelhardt and Shero are convicted, the maximum sentence for Engelhardt would be 28 1/2 to 57 years in prison and for Shero 33 to 67 years

Defense attorneys for the two men promptly raised questions about the victim, now 24, whose alleged ordeal was detailed in a 2011 grand jury report on child sex abuse in the archdiocese, the nation's sixth largest with 1.5 million members.

The victim gave "three, four, five" differing accounts of what happened, Michael McGovern, Engelhardt's lawyer, told the jury.

"Whatever time you talk to him it is a completely different version," he said.

The same grand jury report led to the conviction last year of Monsignor William Lynn, former secretary of the clergy for the archdiocese, who was found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child.

Lynn, now serving a prison sentence of up to six years, was the highest-ranking clergyman to be convicted in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church scandal.

Making her opening statement in the Engelhardt and Shapiro case, Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos said the boy in question not only had been sexually abused but was passed from one molester to the next.

"He was subjected to the most vile attacks," she said.

Avery played a pivotal role in Lynn's case. Prosecutors said Avery was a priest with a history of sexual abuse whom Lynn reassigned to St. Jerome's, a parish in Philadelphia that was unaware of his past and where the alleged sexual abuse took place.

Shero's lawyer, Burton Rose, said in his opening statement that the alleged victim changed his story about one assault, first saying it happened in a car but later saying it happened in a big municipal park.

He tried to paint a sympathetic portrait of his client, who wears thick eyeglasses, as being legally blind in one eye and having impaired vision in the other, and who was tormented by students at St. Jerome's who would throw stones at his house.

"Is this the kind of guy who would do the things that (the victim) alleges?" Rose asked the jury.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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