Newsweek Questions Credibility of “Star Witness” in Church Sex Abuse Scandal

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A new Newsweek cover story[1] claims that the “star witness” in the Philadelphia sex abuse scandal that sent Monsignor William Lynn, two priests and a school teacher to prison has credibility problems that undermine his testimony.

According to Newsweek, that witness — known publicly by a pseudonym, “Billy Doe” — offered conflicting stories about the incidents at the heart of his testimony, “bombed out” of a psychiatric test on the eve of a civil trial in the matter, and is a “former heroin user and dealer who had been kicked out of two high schools and been in and out of 23 drug rehabs over a 10-year period.”

Newsweek’s story — “Catholic Guilt? The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy Behind A Lurid Rape Case” — also suggests that District Attorney Seth Williams ignored the conflicts in testimony and errors in a grand jury report on the matter in his zeal to prosecute the case.

“Yes, we do continue to stand by the prosecutions and witness,” Cameron Kline, a spokesman for Williams, said via email Friday afternoon. Doe’s attorney did not immediately respond to a Philly Mag inquiry for comment.

The story was written by Ralph Cipriano, the former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter known more for his clashes with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia[2] rather than his defense of it. But the Newsweek story is the culmination of several years of reporting — much of it aggressively challenging Billy Doe’s testimony — at the local legal blog,,[3] National Catholic Reporter[4], and other outlets. Indeed, Cipriano has followed the story so closely he was subpoenaed by Doe’s attorney in 2013.[5]

Doe, now reportedly 27, first reported his accusations in 2009, that he had been serially raped as a fifth- and sixth-grader at St. Jerome’s parish school in Northeast Philadelphia by two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher. His testimony led to the imprisonment of each man — the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, former priest Edward Avery and former parish teacher Bernard Shero — and was also critical in the prosecution that sent Lynn to prison. (Engelhardt later died in prison.) His story also featured in a Rolling Stone article [6]on the scandal, written by former Philly Mag writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who in turn has come under fire for a separate article on rape at the University of Virginia that turned out to have an unreliable source at its center[7].

Cipriano’s story suggests Doe’s testimony is similarly unreliable. Among the (long list) of apparent contradictions documented:

Doe, the story notes, has received a $5 million settlement from the archdiocese, and is free despite having been busted for drugs several times.

The archdiocese did not respond to request for comment.

Follow @JoelMMathis[8] on Twitter.

  1. Newsweek cover story:
  2. clashes with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:
  4. National Catholic Reporter:
  5. subpoenaed by Doe’s attorney in 2013.:
  6. Rolling Stone article :
  7. unreliable source at its center:
  8. @JoelMMathis:

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