A Philadelphia judge Wednesday sentenced a Catholic priest and a former parochial school teacher to prison for the sexual assault of a young boy that took place nearly 15 years ago.
Before a packed courtroom, Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler handed Rev. Charles Engelhardt six to 12 years in jail.
Bernard Shero, a former teacher at St. Jerome’s parish school in Northeast Philadelphia, received eight to 16 years behind bars.
Both men addressed Ceisler before being sentenced. Each maintained their innocence.
Engelhardt, 66, choked up at times as he reviewed his four-plus decades of service as a priest and said he had “no recollection” of the victim, who was abused when he was 10 and an altar boy at St. Jerome’s.
“I had no interaction with him that would lead to this accusation,” said Engelhardt.
“I believe that [this injustice] will be righted,” he added.
Shero, 50, said he was “targeted” because of his social awkwardness and considerable visual impairments. He angrily told Evangelia Manos, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, that she had “twisted” the facts of the case.
“There’s absolutely no way I could do that. Absolutely no way,” said Shero, who was convicted of rape, among other charges.
Attorney Michael McGovern, who is representing Engelhardt, and attorney Burton Rose, who is representing Shero, both argued that the victim’s testimony was full of inconsistencies and that the case should be retried.
Manos requested the maximum penalty for all charges filed against the pair.
“These men chose noble vocations and they also made the choice to desecrate them,” said Manos.
McGovern told Ceisler that Engelhardt is not a danger to society and that he should not spend another day in jail. He asked that his client be sentenced to probation.
Rose simply asked that his client not be sentenced to more than five years in prison, the mandatory maximum under the state’s sentencing guidelines.
Heading into Wednesday’s hearing, Engelhardt was charged with child endangerment, indecent assault, corruption of a minor and conspiracy to assault a minor.
Ceisler dropped the conspiracy charge against Engelhardt, arguing that evidence to support the charge was “purely speculative.”
Shero faced charges of rape, child endangerment, indecent exposure and corruption of a minor.
Neither man faced any criminal charges prior to the victim’s abuse allegations, which surfaced in 2009.
Ceisler ignored both pleas, telling Engelhardt and Shero that their actions warranted more prison time than sentencing guidelines.
She said it would be wrong to allow adults “in positions of authority” to “destroy lives without meaningful consequences.”
Following Wednesday’s hearing, Manos said she was pleased with Ceisler’s decisions.
“This is the end of a long road for him and hopefully one of the final chapters in this horrible ordeal that he’s had to relive over and over again,” said Manos. “And I think it’s a victory for all victims of sexual assault.”
Neither McGovern nor Rose were immediately available for comment.
The victim’s complaints against Engelhardt and Shero led to the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, a former secretary for the clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Lynn was convicted of child endangerment and is serving a three to six year prison sentence.
He’s believed to be the first Catholic official in the country to be convicted of covering up child sex abuse.