Latest priest sex abuse trial put on hold

Posted: September 05, 2012

The trial of a former Philadelphia priest and a Catholic schoolteacher on charges they sexually abused a 10-year-old altar boy in 1998 and 1999 was abruptly postponed this morning because of deaths in the family of a defense attorney.

The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court room was set up for jury selection when Judge M. Teresa Sarmina announced the delay because of deaths in the family of Michael J. McGovern.

Court officials said that over the past several days, a sister-in-law died in Florida and McGovern's uncle died in Philadelphia.

Sarmina set a status hearing for Friday but said the case would be transferred to a different judge because she has back-to-back homicide trials scheduled through the rest of the year.

The name of the new judge and a new trial date are not known; the case will be sent to what is known as a "calendar room" for assignment.

Former priest Charles Engelhardt, 65, and former parochial school teacher Bernard Shero, 49, are charged with rape, sexual assault and related charges in the alleged abuse of the 10-year-old altar boy identified by prosecutors as "Billy Doe."

The alleged assaults occurred at St. Jerome's parish in Northeast Philadelphia, where Engelhardt then lived in the rectory and where Shero taught sixth grade in the parish school.

The Inquirer has a policy of not identifying victims of sexual assault.

Engelhardt and Shero were originally charged in 2011 with Msgr. William J. Lynn, Rev. Edward Avery and the Rev. James J. Brennan following a wide-ranging county grand jury report about the sexual abuse of minors by some priests in Philadelphia and efforts by archdiocesan officials to cover up the allegations.

Sarmina later agreed to sever Engelhardt's and Shero's cases because neither was under the direct supervision of Lynn - secretary of clergy - or other church officials. Engelhardt was a priest in Philadelphia under the authority of an independent order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.

Avery, 69, pleaded guilty in March to sexually assaulting Billy in 1999 and was immediately sentenced to 2-1/2 to 5 years in prison.

Lynn, 61, who from 1992 to 2004 was responsible for investigating allegations against priests, was the first church official convicted of a charge of child endangerment involving a priest's offenses. Found guilty in June, Lynn is serving a 3- to 6-year prison term.

Brennan, 49, will be retried March 6 in the attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Brennan was tried with Lynn but the jury was unable to reach a verdict in his case and a mistrial was declared.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

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