A jury on Wednesday convicted Catholic priest Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former parochial school teacher Bernard Shero of nearly all charges involving the repeated sexual abuse of a 10-year-old altar boy at St. Jerome Parish in Northeast Philadelphia between 1998 and 2000.
“This is an important day for all institutional abuse victims,” District Attorney Seth Williams said. “It is not an easy thing to overcome decades of cover-up and a culture of silence. This verdict will help put an end to the blind eye and the deaf ear with which so many victims of abuse have been received.”
The decision came after nearly three full days of deliberations. Central to the trial was the credibility of the victim – now 24 – who has struggled with heroin addiction since he was a teen and at times gave varying accounts of the abuse details.
“Engelhardt and Shero tried to avoid justice by claiming the victim was not credible,” said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We are glad their hurtful and malicious legal tactic did not work.”
Defense lawyers pointed to a pending civil suit the young man brought against the archdiocese as a possible motive for what they said were outrageous allegations, but prosecutors praised his courage.
“Not only did he have the strength to report his abuse, he had the tenacity to look his abusers in the eye and testify in front of complete strangers about the horrific details of his attacks,” Williams said. “I hope this verdict will help him to continue with the long journey of healing that comes after such trauma.”
Engelhardt and Shero were both taken into custody immediately following the verdict and will be sentenced on March 18. Engelhardt faces a maximum sentence of 37 years in jail, while Shero could receive up to 57 years.
The case faced a hurdle when Edward Avery, another former St. Jerome Parish priest who last year pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the same victim, testified earlier this month that he never abused the child and only took the plea because he feared a trial would result in a longer sentence.
In what legal observers called a landmark conviction, Monsignor William Lynn was last year found guilty of child endangerment for exposing the victim to Avery, a known pedophile. The monsignor allowed Avery’s transfer to Saint Jerome even though the priest had already admitted to abusing a boy in the past.
Avery began abusing the Saint Jerome Parish altar boy after fellow priest Engelhardt described to him a sexual encounter he’d had with the victim, according to testimony.
– Shero was convicted of rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors and indecent sexual assault of a person less than 13 years of age.
– Engelhardt was convicted of indecent assault of a child under 13, corruption of minors, endangering the welfare of children, and conspiracy to commit those offenses.
– The jury deadlocked on one involuntary deviate sexual intercourse count brought against Engelhardt.