A Philadelphia jury convicted a priest and a parochial teacher in a sexual-abuse case that rattled the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and forged the way for felony convictions of church leaders accused of suppressing abuse allegations.
The verdict was the culmination of a case that hinged on the testimony of a 24-year-old man, called "Billy Doe" in a 2011 grand jury report. He came forward after years of silence to report the sexual abuse he suffered as an altar boy in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Billy’s account – that he was abused by two priests and a teacher – helped form the case against Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first Roman Catholic church official convicted of a felony for covering up sex-abuse allegations. Edward Avery, one of the priests, already was serving 2½ to 5 years in prison for sexually assaulting the victim.
After three days of deliberations, a jury Wednesday convicted the other priest, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, and teacher Bernard Shero, said Frank Keel, a spokesman for Philadelphia's court system.
Shero was convicted of rape, indecent sexual assault and several other charges and faces 57 years in prison, Philadelphia Dist. Atty. Seth Williams said in a statement. Engelhardt was convicted of indecent assault, among other charges, and faces 37 years. Sentencing is scheduled for March 18.
Williams praised Billy for his “exceptional courage” in testifying in the case, adding that he hopes his example will embolden other victims.
“This is an important day for all institutional abuse victims,” Williams said. “It is not an easy thing to overcome decades of cover-up and a culture of silence. This verdict will help put an end to the blind eye and the deaf ear with which so many victims of abuse have been received.”