For Father Charles Engelhardt, the ordeal is finally over.
The 67-year-old priest died at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., according to Father James J. Greenfield, provincial of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Father Engelhardt's religious order.
"A beautiful and holy man" was how his lawyer, Michael J. McGovern, described him. He was "a true martyr," McGovern said.
At the time of his death, Father Engelhardt was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County, where he had served nearly two years of a 6-to-12 year-sentence. The priest was convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. His accuser, however, was "Billy Doe," the former altar boy turned heroin addict who had all kinds of credibility issues.
To Father Engelhardt's family and lawyer, the priest was an innocent man falsely accused and wrongly convicted in a case overflowing with reasonable doubt. When the priest died at the hospital, no family member was present.
Father Greenfield saw Father Engelhardt the day before he died. Despite being handcuffed to a hospital bed and under guard by two armed correctional officers, "Charlie" appeared to be in good spirits, Father Greenfield said.
In a Nov. 8th letter to Father Greenfield, Father Engelhardt wrote that he "started to get very dizzy" on the morning of Nov. 4th. His cellmate "thought I was going to fall and tried to get me to sit down," the priest wrote, but all he could do was lean against a wall.
He was taken to the hospital, where doctors "began the procedure to open an artery through my right wrist," Engelhardt wrote. "I was awake the whole time."
Further tests determined that there were "other arteries on the other side of the heart that were greatly clogged and needed to be dealt with," the priest wrote his superior. Doctors told Engelhardt another procedure should be done immediately, the priest wrote. But the doctors told Engelhardt they wanted to give him time to recover from the first procedure before they performed a second.
"All week every doctor and nurse who examined me asked if I had any pains especially in the chest," the priest wrote. "My reply was always: I have never had any chest pains or a pain in my stomach. This started with feeling dizzy on Tuesday."
"I had a visit from my great-niece at the hospital on Thursday since she lives the closest to the hospital and I was able to telephone one of my sisters last night," the priest wrote. "I hope to call my other sister sometime today."
"My best to all, Charlie Engelhardt."
Then, on Nov. 13th, the priest was taken by ambulance from the prison back to the hospital.
"His left hand was handcuffed to the bed," Father Greenfield said. "And his right leg" was tethered to the bed by a restraint. Two armed correctional officers were in the room eating their lunch and watching TV.
"Charlie was very gracious with them," Father Greenfield said. "I think he realized it was their job. It was nothing personal."
"We had a good visit," Father Greenfield said. "He didn't look near death. His spirits were good."
Father Engelhardt told Father Greenfield about a recent visit from McGovern, his lawyer. Two weeks before Father Engelhardt got sick, McGovern had been in state Superior Court, arguing that his client deserved a new trial because of judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.
McGovern was optimistic about his chances on the appeal. His visit lifted Father Engelhardt's spirits, Father Greenfield said.
Another lost cause.
Father Greenfield anointed his fellow priest with consecrated oil and administered the sacrament of the sick. Then Father Greenfield gave Father Engelhardt his blessing.
As Father Greenfield was leaving, Father Engelhardt told him, "Thank you so much for making the trip."
"I had no clue that would be the last time I would speak to him," Father Greenfield said. "My question is why and how did this happen."
Father Engelhardt spent his days in prison reciting prayers, psalms and hymns from the Liturgy of the Hours. The priest's family and fellow oblates said they never heard Father Engelhardt complain about his plight or speak ill of his accuser. But during his legal ordeal, which began on Jan. 30 2009 when he was removed from active ministry hours after his accuser came forward, Father Engelhardt lost some 50 pounds.
The priest's 68th birthday would have this Wednesday. Although he died at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night, prison officials did not notify Father Engelhardt's family of his death until 11:15 a.m. Monday.
A viewing is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday Nov. 21st at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Ninth and DuPont Streets, Wilmington, Delaware. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Church. Interment will follow at Oblate Cemetery in Childs, MD.
Condolences may be sent to Father Engelhardt's sisters, Mrs. Elaine Boyle and Mrs. Kathleen Stever, 13027 Stevens Rd., Philadelphia, PA 19116.
Father Engelhardt may be gone but Billy Doe's accusations live on in court.
Tomorrow, lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn, another priest accused by Billy Doe, are scheduled to appear in state Supreme Court and argue that their client deserves to be a free man.
Lynn was convicted by a jury on June 22, 2012 of endangering the welfare of a child, Billy Doe, but on Dec. 26, 2013 that conviction was overturned by he state Superior Court. The reversal of Lynn's 3-6-year prison sentence was appealed by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, and the state Supreme Court agreed to review the case.
Lynn has been on house arrest since he was freed nearly a year ago by the state Superior Court. Oral arguments before the state Supreme Court are scheduled to be held tomorrow after 9 a.m. in Harrisburg.