Trial begins for pair accused in sex assault of altar boy

Jury se­lec­tion began Monday for two men ac­cused of the sexu­al ab­use of an al­tar boy from St. Jerome’s par­ish in the late 1990s.

The Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former Cath­ol­ic ele­ment­ary school teach­er Bern­ard Shero are on tri­al on charges of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren, in­de­cent as­sault against someone young­er than 13 years old and in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course.

En­gel­hardt also is charged with con­spir­acy. 

Jury se­lec­tion, which was be­ing held in Room 304 of the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter, 13th and Fil­bert streets, may take a week, ac­cord­ing to Tasha Jamer­son, dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice spokes­wo­man. Testi­mony is not ex­pec­ted to be­gin be­fore Jan. 14, she said.

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge El­len Ceisler, who is presid­ing over the tri­al, has is­sued a gag or­der on all parties.

En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, and Shero, who had taught at St. Jerome’s school in the North­east, had been slated for court on Sept. 4, but their tri­al was post­poned.

Shero and En­gel­hardt were ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2011 along with Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, the Rev. James Bren­nan and former priest Ed­ward Avery. All five had been sched­uled to be tried to­geth­er be­fore Judge M. Teresa Sarmina in late March 2012, but the cases of Shero and En­gel­hardt were sep­ar­ated from the oth­ers.

Phil­adelphia grand jur­ors, who had in­vest­ig­ated al­leg­a­tions of sexu­al ab­use in the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia, is­sued a re­port in Feb­ru­ary 2011 in which they said En­gel­hardt ab­used a St. Jerome School fifth grader dur­ing the 1998-99 school year. The vic­tim was iden­ti­fied by the pseud­onym “Billy” in the re­port.

The re­port de­scribed Billy’s al­leged as­sault by En­gel­hardt, Avery and Shero in graph­ic de­tail.

Jur­ors stated that after En­gel­hardt al­legedly caught “Billy” drink­ing sac­ra­ment­al wine after a Mass, he asked the boy per­son­al ques­tions, showed him por­no­graph­ic magazines and then sexu­ally as­saul­ted him, call­ing the mo­lesta­tion a “ses­sion.”

Months later, the re­port said, Avery told the boy he had heard about his “ses­sion” with En­gel­hardt and that their “ses­sions” would soon be­gin. In March 2012, Avery pleaded guilty to mo­lest­ing the boy.

Shero, a teach­er in the school, offered Billy a ride home, but in­stead stopped at a park and sexu­ally as­saul­ted him. Then Shero told the boy to walk home, ac­cord­ing to the grand jury re­port.

Lynn was found guilty in June of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren be­cause he was knew of ab­use al­leg­a­tions against Avery but kept him in act­ive min­istry.

The jury couldn’t reach a de­cision on Bren­nan. He will be re­tried in March. Lynn has ap­pealed his con­vic­tion in Su­per­i­or Court. He is in­car­cer­ated in Way­mart state pris­on in north­east­ern Pennsylvania. ••

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