PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest has died in custody while appealing his child sexual abuse conviction.
The Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 67, had been in prison since his conviction last year, and was serving a 6- to 12-year term. He died over the weekend at a hospital, according to his religious order.
Engelhardt maintained his innocence and said he didn’t remember the accuser, a policeman’s troubled son who said he was molested by two priests and a Catholic school teacher.
“I’ve accepted this injustice and I will continue to do so until it is righted,” Engelhardt said at his June 2013 sentencing. “I had no interaction with (the accuser) in any way.”
Engelhardt had lost 50 pounds since the accusation surfaced in 2009. He was later treated for heart problems and had an angioplasty earlier this month, according to his religious order. He returned to prison, but went back to the hospital last week after his symptoms continued, according to the Rev. James Greenfield, provincial of the Delaware-based Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
He visited Engelhardt in the hospital Friday, and found him optimistic about the appeal.
“He was just waiting for his day of vindication,” he said. “I don’t think he ever understood how this whole thing took the turn that it did.”
The accuser’s testimony also brought down Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy at the Philadelphia archdiocese, who was convicted of felony endangerment for his handling of hundreds of abuse complaints.
Lynn’s novel conviction was later reversed by the state Superior Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to review that decision on Tuesday.
Engelhardt died at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania, just weeks after the Superior Court heard his appeal. He had been incarcerated at a state prison in Northumberland County.
The accuser said the assaults began after Engelhardt caught him drinking altar wine in the late 1990s, when he was in fifth grade. He said Engelhardt told fellow priest Edward Avery about their “session,” prompting Avery and teacher Bernard Shero to follow suit.
Avery accepted a plea offer, but later denied molesting the boy. Shero was convicted with Engelhardt and is serving an eight- to 16-year term.
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