Ex-teacher gets separate trial in clergy-abuse case

A former Cath­ol­ic lay teach­er ac­cused of mo­lest­ing a ju­ven­ile won’t have to stand tri­al with four oth­er de­fend­ants, a Com­mon Pleas Court judge ruled Tues­day.

Bern­ard Shero, who taught at St. Jerome’s par­ish school in Winchester Park, was the only lay­man ac­cused in a case that in­volves two priests, an ex-priest and a monsignor. 

Their com­bined tri­al, sched­uled to be­gin at the end of March, is ex­pec­ted to last four months.

But Judge Lil­lian Ransom agreed with Shero’s at­tor­ney, Bur­ton Rose, that the former teach­er had noth­ing to do with the cases against the oth­er men and ordered that Shero should be tried sep­ar­ately.

Shero is charged with mo­lest­ing a St. Jerome pu­pil. He also had been charged with con­spir­acy, as are the oth­er de­fend­ants, but that charge was quashed by Ransom dur­ing a late Ju­ly hear­ing.

In Feb­ru­ary, Shero, Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, James Bren­nan, Ed­ward Avery and Charles En­gel­hardt were ar­res­ted after a Phil­adelphia grand jury re­leased its re­port on sexu­al ab­use of minors by the city’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic clergy. All but Lynn face sexu­al mo­lesta­tion charges.

“There is no evid­ence Shero had any­thing to do with or even knew Avery or En­gel­hardt,” Rose told the tri­al judge, M. Teresa Sarmina, on Fri­day.

In Ju­ly, Rose un­suc­cess­fully had ar­gued be­fore Ransom that, since there was no con­spir­acy charge, Shero should stand tri­al sep­ar­ately.

Rose tried again on Fri­day, then telling  Sarmina, that the com­mon­wealth has not linked his cli­ent’s al­leged crimes to the al­leg­a­tions against the oth­er de­fend­ants. 

On Tues­day, Sarmina re­ferred Rose’s mo­tion back to Ransom, who agreed to re­con­sider her earli­er rul­ing and then gran­ted Shero’s re­quest to be tried alone — after the oth­er de­fend­ants’ tri­al is over. Ransom then de­ferred to Sarmina to set a tri­al date. Shero’s tri­al will be­gin Sept. 4. 

The Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice began look­ing in­to Avery’s and En­gel­hardt’s activ­it­ies in 2009 after the arch­diocese no­ti­fied au­thor­it­ies of com­plaints against the two men. Avery since has been de­frocked.

En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing a 10-year-old boy in the sac­risty of St. Jerome’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church in 1998 and ’99. The grand jury said En­gel­hardt then told Avery about the boy, and that Avery sub­sequently began mo­lest­ing the child.

Shero, who taught at St. Jerome’s par­ish school, began sexu­ally ab­us­ing the boy the next year, grand jur­ors wrote. The vic­tim is now an adult.

Rose had ar­gued that there was no evid­ence his cli­ent even knew Avery and En­gel­hardt. He said the only “com­mon­al­ity” the men had was their al­leged vic­tim.

Al­though the oth­er de­fend­ants are fa­cing sexu­al ab­use charges, Lynn, who was Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua’s sec­ret­ary for clergy, is fa­cing child en­dan­ger­ment charges. Grand jur­ors said Lynn had en­dangered chil­dren by al­low­ing Bren­nan and Avery, whom he had in­vest­ig­ated for sexu­al mis­con­duct with minors, to con­tin­ue to live or work in Phil­adelphia par­ishes.

At last Fri­day’s hear­ing, Rose ar­gued Shero had noth­ing to do with Lynn either, be­cause he was em­ployed dir­ectly by the par­ish school and was not an em­ploy­ee of the arch­diocese.

“Ele­ment­ary schools are not sub­ject to arch­dioces­an ap­prov­al,” he told Sarmina.

The grand jury said Lynn knew of pre­vi­ous al­leg­a­tions in­volving a minor and had ordered Avery to get ther­apy. Grand jur­ors said Lynn ig­nored re­com­mend­a­tions to keep Avery away from chil­dren and had him as­signed to St. Jerome’s par­ish.

Dur­ing the course of the probe, in­vest­ig­at­ors began look­ing in­to al­leg­a­tions Bren­nan had mo­les­ted a Chester County boy in 1996. Grand jur­ors said Lynn knew of pre­vi­ous al­leg­a­tions against Bren­nan but had trans­ferred him any­way. Bren­nan was as­signed to St. Jerome’s in 1997.

On Jan. 4, Sarmina will hear mo­tions to sep­ar­ate En­gel­hardt’s case from the oth­er de­fend­ants’ joint tri­al. On Jan. 23, at­tor­neys will meet in Sarmina’s courtroom to settle any out­stand­ing is­sues about what evid­ence will be al­lowed at the tri­al.

Dur­ing last Fri­day’s hear­ing, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Patrick Bless­ing­ton com­plained that the arch­diocese had cir­cu­lated a memo in­struct­ing its priests and em­ploy­ees that they must con­tact the arch­diocese be­fore they talk about the case with any rep­res­ent­at­ives of law en­force­ment or the news me­dia.

Bless­ing­ton said po­ten­tial wit­nesses told the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice they wer­en’t sup­posed to talk without con­sult­ing the arch­diocese.

At­tor­ney Robert Welsh told Sarmina that he had been re­tained by the arch­diocese and ad­vises em­ploy­ees and priests they have a right to coun­sel, but he has in­struc­ted them to talk to law en­force­ment of­ficers. He said Phil­adelphia arch­dioces­an em­ploy­ees have been con­tac­ted by the me­dia, oth­er pro­sec­utori­al of­fices and oth­er dio­cese.

“We are in­struc­ted to be hon­est,” he said.

Sarmina made no rul­ing on the mat­ter Fri­day. The North­east Times re­ques­ted a copy of the memo from the arch­diocese, but the re­quest was re­fused by a spokes­wo­man, who cited a court-im­posed gag or­der.

Jury se­lec­tion is set to be­gin Feb. 21. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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