Mum’s the word

— At St. Jerome Par­ish, no one wants to talk about the con­vic­tion of a priest and teach­er in a sex-ab­use scan­dal or how the church moves for­ward. Pa­rish­ion­ers do have a lot to say about the good things go­ing on at the church.

The lead­er­ship of St. Jerome Par­ish is re­main­ing si­lent in the wake of the con­vic­tions of a former par­ish priest and school teach­er on charges that they sexu­ally as­saul­ted an al­tar boy. The St. Jerome flock, though, hopes at­ten­tion soon turns away from the scan­dal and back to­ward all the good things they say are hap­pen­ing at the Holme Circle-based Cath­ol­ic church. 

“We love the par­ish,” said Ron Stark­man, speak­ing for him­self and his fianc&ea­cute;e, Nancy An­do­nucci. “The people here are very nice.”

The Rev. Den­nis P. Boyle, pas­tor at St. Jerome, did not re­spond to sev­er­al re­quests for an in­ter­view. Shar­on Nendza, the school prin­cip­al, did not re­turn a call.

At Sunday’s 11 a.m. Mass, there was no pub­lic men­tion of the crim­in­al tri­al and the jury’s ver­dict, an­nounced last Thursday. The par­ish dea­con did not dis­cuss it in his homily. The lect­or called for pray­ers for cops, fire­fight­ers and mil­it­ary mem­bers dur­ing the gen­er­al in­ter­ces­sions, but not for young vic­tims of sexu­al ab­use. The vis­it­ing priest who cel­eb­rated the Mass even offered a pray­er for fans of the team that would go on to lose the Su­per Bowl that night.

The ab­use happened more than a dec­ade ago. Pa­rish­ion­ers don’t ex­cuse it, but prefer to dwell on their pos­it­ive ex­per­i­ences with the church.

When a Times re­port­er tried to en­gage church-go­ers about how St. Jerome would move on after the tri­al and ver­dict, they re­spon­ded by talk­ing about what they liked about par­ish life.

Some­body men­tioned that priests ad­min­is­ter Com­mu­nion to shut-ins. One noted all the activ­it­ies dur­ing the re­cently com­pleted Cath­ol­ic Schools Week. An­oth­er poin­ted to the church host­ing a World Day of Pray­er event on March 1. And an­oth­er re­called that many pa­rish­ion­ers still vo­lun­teer at Aid For Friends — the Far North­east char­ity that provides meals for home­bound seni­or cit­izens and which once had a trail­er out­side church and an of­fice at the Holme Circle Shop­ping Cen­ter.

Javi­er Lopez was help­ing his daugh­ters sell Girl Scout cook­ies in the church lobby. He has chil­dren in first and sev­enth grades at the school and an­oth­er who gradu­ated and is now a high school sopho­more.

“The teach­ers are very nice, and the priests are al­ways reach­ing out to you,” he said.

The broth­er-and-sis­ter team of Walt Blichasz and Kathy Rosen­z­weig was selling weekly par­ish jack­pot tick­ets.

Blichasz has been a pa­rish­ion­er for 35 years and sent three chil­dren to the school.

“I love the par­ish. They’ve done good by me and my fam­ily,” he said.

Tony Per­petua is an ush­er dur­ing Mass and car­ries the col­lec­tion up to the al­tar dur­ing the present­a­tion of the gifts. He and his wife, Kathy, say they go to church be­cause of their faith.

“I go to Mass for God,” she said.

Mean­while, the priest and former teach­er con­victed of mo­lest­ing the St. Jerome stu­dent in the late 1990s are fa­cing the pos­sib­il­ity of lengthy pris­on terms.

The Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt, 66, faces a max­im­um sen­tence of 37 years in pris­on and ex-teach­er Bern­ard Shero, 50, faces a max­im­um of 57 years.

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge El­len Ceisler, who presided over their nine-day tri­al, set sen­ten­cing for April 18.

The jury found Shero guilty on all counts. The pan­el found En­gel­hardt guilty on all counts ex­cept one. The jury was un­able to reach a ver­dict on the charge of in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course with a child.

Im­me­di­ately after the ver­dicts were read on Jan. 30, Ceisler re­voked bail and ordered the men to be held in pro­tect­ive cus­tody. En­gel­hardt and Shero are in­car­cer­ated in the Cur­ran-From­hold Cor­rec­tion­al Fa­cil­ity on State Road.

Bur­ton Rose, Shero’s at­tor­ney, said his cli­ent would ap­peal the con­vic­tions. En­gel­hardt’s law­yer, Mi­chael McGov­ern, said he, too, will ap­peal.

“We be­lieve there are nu­mer­ous bases to re­verse the con­vic­tion,” McGov­ern said in an in­ter­view on Fri­day.

He said his cli­ent is fa­cing no man­dat­ory min­im­um sen­tence.

McGov­ern said he “firmly be­lieves” in En­gel­hardt’s in­no­cence. He said the ver­dict “shocked, dis­ap­poin­ted and baffled me to my core.”

En­gel­hardt was ac­cused of as­sault­ing the boy, who was 10 years old at the time, after he caught him sip­ping leftover wine after a Mass at St. Jerome’s Church. Pro­sec­utors said Shero, a teach­er at the par­ish school, offered the boy a ride home in his car, and in­stead stopped at Pennypack Park and raped him in a park­ing lot. 

En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, was con­victed of en­dan­ger­ing wel­fare of chil­dren, cor­rup­tion of minors, in­de­cent as­sault of a per­son less than 13 years of age and con­spir­acy. 

Shero was con­victed of rape of a child, in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course with a child, en­dan­ger­ing wel­fare of chil­dren, cor­rup­tion of minors, and in­de­cent as­sault of a per­son less than 13 years of age.

The vic­tim, now 24 years old and liv­ing in Flor­ida, test­i­fied dur­ing the tri­al, as did his moth­er and fath­er. The vic­tim was not in court when the ver­dict was read.

In his testi­mony, the vic­tim said En­gel­hardt mo­les­ted him dur­ing the 1998-99 school year when he was a St. Jerome’s fifth-grader. He said the priest had re­ferred to the time he had asked him per­son­al ques­tions and had shown him por­no­graphy, and the time he had sexu­ally ab­used him as “ses­sions.” 

Dur­ing the same school year, the vic­tim test­i­fied, an­oth­er priest, Ed­ward Avery, told him he had heard about the boy’s “ses­sions” with En­gel­hardt and that theirs would soon be­gin.

The vic­tim told jur­ors that Avery mo­les­ted him twice.

Avery, who has been de­frocked, pleaded guilty to two mo­lesta­tion charges be­fore he was to be tried in March 2012. He is now 10 months in­to a pris­on sen­tence of two and a half to five years.

Wear­ing pris­on cloth­ing, Avery test­i­fied at the En­gel­hardt-Shero tri­al.

He said he pleaded guilty to mo­lesta­tion charges to avoid a length­i­er pris­on term, but denied he had ever touched the vic­tim or dis­cussed him with En­gel­hardt.

The jury de­lib­er­ated over four days.

“The vic­tim in this case has shown ex­cep­tion­al cour­age,” Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams said after ver­dicts were an­nounced. “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. 

“I hope this ver­dict will help him to con­tin­ue with the long jour­ney of heal­ing that comes after such trauma. This is an im­port­ant day for all in­sti­tu­tion­al ab­use vic­tims. 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.”

En­gel­hardt, Avery and Shero were ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2011 after a grand jury in­vest­ig­a­tion of sexu­al ab­use by Phil­adelphia’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic clergy.

Dur­ing the course of that probe, grand jur­ors be­came aware of al­leg­a­tions against the Rev. James Bren­nan. Both he and Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, who had in­vest­ig­ated child-ab­use al­leg­a­tions as the arch­dioces­an sec­ret­ary for clergy, were ar­res­ted.

Lynn was not ac­cused of touch­ing a child. He faced two counts of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren for al­low­ing Bren­nan and Avery to con­tin­ue in min­is­tries in which they could have con­tact with chil­dren. Lynn also was charged with con­spir­acy.

Lynn and Bren­nan were tried to­geter in March. Lynn was con­victed of one count of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren and was sen­tenced to three to six years in pris­on. He is ap­peal­ing his con­vic­tion.

The jury couldn’t reach ver­dicts on the charges against Bren­nan. He will be re­tried on March 6. ••

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