A Philadelphia jury convicted a priest and a former parochial school teacher of sexually abusing the same middle-school student in separate incidents in what has been Philadelphia’s first prosecution of Catholic Church officials for the sexual abuse of parishioners.
The jury was in their fourth day of deliberations when they returned with their verdict Wednesday.
The Rev. Charles Engelhardt was convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of minors, indecent assault on a person less than 13 years old and conspiracy.
The jury was deadlocked on one charge of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse against Engelhardt, which led to Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler declaring a mistrial on that count.
Former school teacher Bernard Shero was convicted of charges of rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of minors and indecent assault of a person less than 18 years old.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said the message is that children need to be listened to when they express reluctance to be around certain adults because that is likely a sign something else is going on. One out of four girls under the age of 18 is abused, and one out of six boys under the age of 18 is abused, Williams said.
Mark Cipolletti and Evangelia Manos prosecuted the case.
Engelhardt’s defense attorney, Michael McGovern, said that his client is completely innocent and that, if his client could be convicted on the sort of evidence in this trial, that he does not know what priest would be acquitted when falsely accused of sexual abuse.
It was the first time he has been disappointed in the jury system, McGovern said.
Shero’s attorney, Burton Rose, also said he was very disappointed and surprised. “I thought there was ample reasonable doubt about the case,” Rose said.
D.G. said he was abused in his fifth-grade year, first by Engelhardt and then by defrocked priest Edward V. Avery, after he served Mass with them, and that he was abused in his sixth-grade year by Shero in Shero’s car after Shero offered to give him a ride home after school.
The Legal does not name confirmed or alleged sexual-abuse victims.
During closing arguments, Cipolletti said that D.G.’s demons with substance abuse and trouble in the criminal justice system has been from being abused. But McGovern said, while he recognized the pain that D.G.’s family has experienced watching him deteriorate, that “Father Engelhardt did not cause his pain.”
Perhaps the most dramatic moment in the trial was when Avery took the stand and said that he only pled guilty in early 2011 to sexually abusing D.G. to avoid a longer prison sentence.
Avery said that he was only able to plead guilty because he was asked by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, after a recitation of facts by a prosecutor, if those were the facts to which Avery was pleading guilty, Rose said. Avery said he would not have been able to plead guilty if he had been asked directly, Rose said.
Rose argued it added credence to the defense theory that D.G. made up that he was sexually attacked by the two priests and the teacher in a year’s span.
“Edward Avery has a lot to lose and nothing to gain [by coming into court and saying] that, ‘I took the guilty plea to avoid dying in jail,’” Rose said. Prosecutors will be able to write to the state Parole Board indicating that Avery is not cooperating with the criminal justice system, and that would weigh heavily on Avery being able to get out of prison when he is first eligible for parole on his 2 1/2-to-five-year sentence, Rose said.
The prosecution, however, said that it was no surprise that Avery would revert to denying his sex crimes.
Perhaps Avery wanted to help “one of his friends,” or perhaps he wanted his denial to be publicly reported so word would get back to his fellow state-prison inmates, Cipolletti said in closing arguments.
Williams told reporters Wednesday that Avery recanted in order to protect the priests and the church “at the expense of the victim.”
Shero and Engelhardt had their cases severed from the trial of Monsignor William J. Lynn, the first Catholic Church official in the country to be charged with harming sexual-abuse victims whose abuse he was responsible for investigating.
Lynn was convicted of endangering the welfare of D.G. when he was sexually assaulted by Avery, who Lynn recommended for his clerical assignment.
Ceisler revoked bail on the two defendants and ordered that they be kept in protective custody. Their sentencing has been set for April 18.
Shero could face up to 57 years in state prison, and Engelhardt could face up to 37 years in state prison, according to Williams.