The trial began yesterday for a former Catholic school teacher and defrocked priest accused of sexually assaulting the same altar boy, a victim who allegedly was sexually abused by four different church officials starting in 1998 when he was 10 years old.
Bernard Shero, a former teacher, and Charles Englehardt, a former priest, have been charged with rape, sexual assault and related offenses. Monday’s trial is the second connected to the investigation of sexual abuse within the Philadelphia Archdiocese, an investigation that revealed a pattern of sexual assaults and efforts by ranking Church officials to cover up the abuse.
Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.
The victim, who is now in his twenties, testified that when he was in the fifth grade at the St. Jerome School he was sexually abused by two different priests. His first encounter was with Englehardt, who, according to the investigation report, allegedly gave him sacramental wine and showed him pornographic magazines and asked personal intimate questions. Englehardt allegedly told the victim that “sessions” would begin soon; a reference he didn’t understand at the time.
A week later the victim found out when Englehardt allegedly had him remove his clothes and sexually abused him. Two weeks later Englehardt allegedly asked if he was ready for another “session” and the victim refused.
Edward Avery was next in the line of allegedly sexually abusive priests who took advantage of the young victim. According to the investigation Englehardt gave Avery the rundown on his “sessions” with the victim; Avery also allegedly engineered sexual encounters with the victim. When the victim entered the sixth grade he met Bernard Shero, who the victim described as “kind of a creep,” the kind of man who allegedly liked to put his arm around students and whisper in their ears and have inappropriate conversations with some of them.
“One day, according to the victim’s testimony, Shero told the boy he would give him a ride home from school. But instead of taking the victim straight home, he stopped at a park about a mile from the boy’s house. When the victim asked why they were stopping, Shero answered, ‘We’re going to have some fun.’”
The Philadelphia Archdiocese responded to the accusations of sexual assault by the priests by reassigning them to different parishes. The investigation revealed that documents from the Church’s files showed that Avery allegedly abused a boy in 1992 and allegedly sexually assaulted another boy in the 1980s and 1970s. Avery pleaded guilty to the charges against him last April.
The Philadelphia Archdiocese has come under scrutiny before, with an earlier investigation into sexual abuse in 2005 under former District Attorney Lynn Abraham. No one was prosecuted as a result of the earlier investigation, which also showed an alleged systematic cover-up by Church officials of the abuse allegations. The 2006 grad jury investigation resulted in arrests; one of them a ranking Church official, Rev. Monsignor William Lynn who allegedly allowed the pedophile priests to continue serving in the Church. Lynn became the first high ranking Catholic Church official ever convicted of allegedly covering up the sexual abuse.
The trial is expected to last for several weeks.
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