Case of Philadelphia Priest and Former Teacher Accused of Raping Altar Boy Headed to Jury
By Joseph A. Slobodzian
January 25, 2013
The child-rape trial of a Philadelphia Catholic priest and an ex-parochial-school teacher goes to a Common Pleas Court jury Friday after the end of testimony and one defense lawyer's plea for acquittal.
Burton A. Rose urged jurors not to convict former teacher Bernard Shero because of his awkward appearance or the salacious nature of the charges against him.
In his closing Thursday, Rose read the list of charges against the 49-year-old, vision-impaired English teacher: rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, child endangerment, and two related counts.
"We have these charges in this case that are horrible," Rose said. "Nothing is worse than being charged with the violent assault of a child. . . . But don't be swept away by the allegations."
Shero and the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 66, are on trial in the alleged 1998-99 serial rape of a 10-year-old altar boy at St. Jerome's parish in the Northeast.
When the trial resumes, jurors will hear the closing argument of Engelhardt's attorney, Michael McGovern, and a summation by Assistant District Attorneys Evangelia Manos or Mark Cipolletti. Judge Ellen Ceisler will then give her legal instructions and deliberations will begin.
After 81/2 days of testimony, the case against Engelhardt and Shero rests largely on whether the jury believes the now-24-year-old victim-accuser. Neither Engelhardt nor Shero testified in his own defense, though both presented more than a score of witnesses who testified about their good reputations.
Rose argued that the alleged victim - called "Billy Doe" in the 2011 county grand jury report on child-sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia - is uncorroborated and cannot be believed.
Rose noted that Billy had sued the archdiocese for the alleged sexual assaults by Shero, Engelhardt, and another priest.
"Over the last 10 years, he had 23 drug rehabs," Rose told the jury. "He can blame all that conduct on what he says happened in '99 and score a payday."
Rose called Shero an accuser's "perfect target," a man whose poor vision - from congenital cataracts - and strong glasses had made him the object of bullying and social ostracism since grade school.
"Mr. Shero is awkward. He's socially inept. But he's not a child rapist," Rose argued.
Billy Doe alleges that Engelhardt; Edward V. Avery, 70; and Shero serially raped him when he was in fifth and sixth grades at St. Jerome's.
Avery, a priest who has been defrocked, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to 21/2 to five years in prison. On Jan. 17, he returned as a prosecution witness and threw the trial into turmoil by recanting his guilty plea, saying he did not know Billy.
The three men were among five charged after the 2011 grand jury report. In June, a first trial ended with the landmark child-endangerment verdict against Msgr. William J. Lynn.
Lynn, 62, was the first Catholic Church administrator in the United States convicted of covering up or enabling the sexual abuse of children by priests.
Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, firstname.lastname@example.org or @joeslobo on Twitter.