Newsweek

Catholic Church Priests Raped Children in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Detective Joe Walsh was admired by peers and prosecutors, but he is most proud of the fact that he never locked up an innocent person. Then he got sucked into a massive cover-up of sexual abuse by priests.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the former Archbishop of Philadelphia, attends a mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 7, 2003.
Cardinal Source: REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

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,

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