Northeast Times

Child molestation cases to begin in March

The abil­ity of re­tired Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua to testi­fy will be at is­sue next month.

The sex ab­use tri­al of three priests, a former priest and a Cath­ol­ic school lay teach­er is ex­pec­ted to take four months, but it won’t even start un­til the last week of March 2012.

As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Patrick Bless­ing­ton said he has between 65 and 75 wit­nesses, and Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina will con­duct a hear­ing next month to de­cide if Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua will be one of them.

Bevilac­qua was Phil­adelphia’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic arch­bish­op when the al­leged sexu­al ab­use of two minors oc­curred dur­ing the 1990s.

At­tor­neys for one of the de­fend­ants, Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, and an at­tor­ney for Bevilac­qua have ar­gued that the 88-year-old car­din­al is too ill to testi­fy and suf­fers from de­men­tia. Lynn’s at­tor­neys, Jef­frey Lindy and Thomas Bergstrom, re­minded the court that pro­sec­utors had said they had not needed Bevilac­qua’s testi­mony while a grand jury was in­vest­ig­at­ing sexu­al ab­use of minors by clergy.

Dur­ing a schedul­ing con­fer­ence be­fore Sarmina on Aug. 5, Bless­ing­ton said pro­sec­utors now feel that they need Bevilac­qua’s testi­mony and feel that it should be video­taped, or “pre­served,” pre­cisely be­cause the car­din­al is in such poor health. The great­er the time to the tri­al, he ar­gued, the great­er chance Bevilac­qua’s health would fur­ther de­teri­or­ate.

Sarmina said she wanted to see the car­din­al’s med­ic­al re­cords by Aug. 22 and would hear ar­gu­ments about Bevilac­qua’s com­pet­ency to testi­fy on Sept. 12.

A na­tion­al sup­port group for vic­tims of cler­ic­al ab­use im­me­di­ately ap­plauded Sarmina’s de­cision.

“It is every vic­tim’s dream and every en­a­bler’s night­mare that a cal­lous and cor­rupt of­fi­cial who could and should have pre­ven­ted hein­ous crimes might face tough ques­tions un­der oath about his com­pli­city,” said Dav­id Clo­hessy, dir­ect­or of the Sur­viv­ors Net­work of those Ab­used by Priests.

“We hope this sends a shud­der of fear down the spines of high-rank­ing Cath­ol­ic fig­ures every­where,” Clo­hessy said in an e-mail to the North­east Times.

Lynn in Feb­ru­ary be­came the first Ro­man Cath­ol­ic ad­min­is­trat­or in Amer­ica to be charged with two counts of en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of chil­dren even though it was not al­leged he had had any con­tact with minors. 

Pro­sec­utors main­tain that Lynn, who was Bevilac­qua’s sec­ret­ary for clergy, had en­dangered chil­dren by al­low­ing his co-de­fend­ants, James Bren­nan and Ed­ward Avery, to con­tin­ue to live in city par­ishes where they could have ac­cess to chil­dren even though he had in­vest­ig­ated al­leg­a­tions of their sexu­al mis­con­duct with minors.

Lynn, Bren­nan, Avery, the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and Bern­ard Shero all were ar­res­ted after a Phil­adelphia grand jury in Feb­ru­ary re­leased its re­port on sexu­al ab­use of minors by the city’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic clergy.

Lynn faces two counts of en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of chil­dren and con­spir­acy. The oth­ers were charged with rape and re­lated of­fenses and con­spir­acy. All have pleaded not guilty.

The Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice began in­vest­ig­at­ing Avery and En­gel­hardt in 2009 after the arch­diocese no­ti­fied au­thor­it­ies of com­plaints against the two men. Avery since has been de­frocked.

En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing a 10-year-old boy in the sac­risty of St. Jerome’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church in Winchester Park in 1998 and 1999. The grand jury said En­gel­hardt then told Avery about the boy, and that Avery began mo­lest­ing the boy. Shero, a lay teach­er at St. Jerome’s par­ish school, mo­les­ted the vic­tim, now an adult, the next year the grand jury said.

The grand jur­ors said Lynn knew of pre­vi­ous al­leg­a­tions in­volving a minor and had ordered Avery to get ther­apy. The grand jury said Lynn ig­nored re­com­mend­a­tions that Avery not be trus­ted around chil­dren and had him as­signed to St. Jerome’s par­ish.

Dur­ing the course of the probe, in­vest­ig­at­ors star­ted look­ing in­to al­leg­a­tions Bren­nan had mo­les­ted a Chester County boy in 1996. The grand jur­ors said Lynn knew of pre­vi­ous al­leg­a­tions against Bren­nan but had trans­ferred him any­way. Bren­nan was as­signed to St. Jerome’s par­ish in 1997.

“The rap­ist priests we ac­cuse were well known to the Sec­ret­ary of Clergy [Lynn], but he cloaked their con­duct and put them in place to do it again,” the grand jur­ors wrote.

The grand jur­ors also said the arch­diocese knew of dozens of priests who were sus­pec­ted of be­ing mo­lesters, but those priests still were act­ive.

Car­din­al Justin Rigali, Phil­adelphia’s arch­bish­op, im­me­di­ately denied that grand jury charge, but about a week after that, he re­lieved three priests of their min­is­tries and not long after that put 21 more on leaves of ab­sence while their cases are re­viewed. 

Rigali, 76, resigned last month.

Sarmina on Fri­day said jury se­lec­tion would be­gin Feb. 21 and the tri­al would be­gin March 26. She ini­tially wanted jury se­lec­tion to start Jan. 17, but de­fense law­yers had asked for a later date be­cause they either needed more time to wade through thou­sands of pages of evid­ence or they had schedul­ing con­flicts with that date. 

Schedul­ing wasn’t the only con­flict dis­cussed last week.

Con­flict of in­terest was the oth­er. Bless­ing­ton said Bevilac­qua is rep­res­en­ted by the same law firm that rep­res­ents the arch­diocese and that there was a po­ten­tial for a con­flict of in­terest. Sarmina said she would hear ar­gu­ments on that point also on Sept. 12.

The judge ex­cused at­tor­neys for Avery, Bren­nan, Shero and En­gel­hardt from at­tend­ing the Sept. 12 hear­ing.

Con­flict of in­terest has come up be­fore in this case. Lynn’s at­tor­neys are be­ing paid by the arch­diocese, a point that con­cerned Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Ren­ee Card­well Hughes.

Dur­ing a March hear­ing, she cau­tioned Lynn that “someone else whose in­terest might not al­ways align with yours is pay­ing your at­tor­neys” and sug­ges­ted to Lynn that there might be sev­er­al con­flicts. Lynn said he trus­ted his at­tor­neys.

Sarmina denied a re­quest by En­gel­hardt’s law­yer, Mi­chael McGov­ern, to lift a gag or­der im­posed by Card­well Hughes in March. 

Sarmina said the case will not be tried in the news me­dia.

McGov­ern, a former as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­ney, said the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice was leak­ing in­form­a­tion to the me­dia, and he wanted the op­por­tun­ity to put out his side of things. Bless­ing­ton countered that pro­sec­utors were not leak­ing any­thing and were fol­low­ing the ju­di­cial pro­cess.

The judge warned all parties not to talk to the me­dia.

“Any vi­ol­a­tion of the gag or­der will be dealt with by me very severely,” she said, “and I’m not kid­ding.” 

Also last week, Bur­ton Rose, who rep­res­ents Shero, said he was ask­ing Com­mon Pleas Judge Lil­lian Ransom to re­con­sider her de­cision not to sever Shero’s case from those of the oth­er de­fend­ants in light of her de­cision to scrap the con­spir­acy charge against him on Ju­ly 29. Ransom had up­held con­spir­acy charges against the oth­er de­fend­ants. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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