Ex-Catholic teacher freed after new sex-abuse plea

Bernard Shero, who was wrongly convicted of raping a student in 2000, has been freed from state prison.

Shero

A former St. Jerome School teacher who was wrongly convicted four years ago of raping a student in 2000 has been freed from state prison, but at a heavy personal cost.

Although a Common Pleas Court judge granted Bernard Shero a new trial on Aug. 14 amid questions about his accuser’s credibility and the prosecution’s full disclosure of evidence to the defense, Shero immediately pleaded no contest to a different felony charge as part of a deal with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. The plea bargain spared the defendant the risk of additional prison time and the financial burdens of an ongoing defense.

During a hearing that reportedly lasted about a half-hour, Judge Ellen Ceisler reversed Shero’s 2013 rape conviction before Shero pleaded no contest to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child — a first-degree felony — along with two misdemeanors: endangering the welfare of a child and corrupting a minor, court records show. The DA’s office dropped felony rape, aggravated indecent assault and conspiracy charges, as well as a misdemeanor indecent assault charge, court records show.

Ceisler then sentenced Shero to time served. The judge further ordered Shero to serve 10 years probation and submit to Megan’s Law supervision, although Shero was not classified as a sexually violent predator.

Shero’s defense attorneys did not return a call requesting comment on the hearing. The DA’s office issued a prepared statement declining to discuss its reasons for offering the plea bargain.

Shero entered his new pleas by teleconference from SCI-Houtzdale. He had already served four-and-a-half years of an eight- to 16-year prison sentence stemming from an incident in 2000 detailed years later to investigators in then-District Attorney Seth Williams’ 2011 grand jury probe of sexual abuse in Philadelphia’s branch of the Roman Catholic Church.

During Shero’s 2013 trial, a man who was identified publicly by prosecutors as “Billy Doe” testified he was enrolled in grade school at St. Jerome’s when Shero offered to drive him home one day, but instead drove the boy to a secluded parking lot and raped him. A jury convicted Shero alongside a co-defendant, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, who was accused of sexually assaulting the same boy in a separate incident.

Engelhardt was living at the same parish at the time of the alleged abuse. He died in prison in November 2014 while in the midst of his own appeal.

Separately, another St. Jerome-based priest, the Rev. Edward V. Avery, pleaded guilty in 2012 to assaulting the same boy and was sentenced to two-and-a-half to five years in prison. Avery has since recanted his confession, but his conviction supported the DA’s simultaneous prosecution of Monsignor William Lynn on child endangerment charges.

As the secretary of clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Lynn was deemed responsible for placing Avery at St. Jerome’s after Avery had been accused previously of sexual abuse elsewhere. Lynn has never been charged with sex abuse, but a jury convicted him of endangerment in 2012. The monsignor has served 33 months of a three- to six-year sentence, but has also been granted a new trial and is free. ••