Cardinal Bevilacqua will meet with judge

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina wants to de­term­ine if the ex-arch­bish­op is com­pet­ent to testi­fy in the tri­al of one of his former aides.

Times File Photo

Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua will have to talk to a judge.

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina last Fri­day set 10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 28, as the time and day she will ex­am­ine the former lead­er of the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia. She wants to de­term­ine if the car­din­al is com­pet­ent to testi­fy in the up­com­ing tri­al of one of his former aides.

After meet­ing with at­tor­neys in her cham­bers on Fri­day, the judge said she is lean­ing to­ward find­ing Bevilac­qua fit to testi­fy in the tri­al of Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, who is charged with en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren. Sarmina will al­low ques­tion­ing of the car­din­al to be “pre­served,” or re­cor­ded, and said she had no idea of how long that would take.

“It could po­ten­tially be lengthy,” the judge said. It could be days, she sug­ges­ted. Lynn’s and Bevilac­qua’s at­tor­neys as well as pro­sec­utors will be present in the closed ses­sion at Bevilac­qua’s res­id­ence in St. Charles Bor­romeo Sem­in­ary in Wyn­newood.

The monsignor, who was the car­din­al’s sec­ret­ary for clergy, is set to go on tri­al in March along with four co-de­fend­ants who are fa­cing child mo­lesta­tion charges. A grand jury early this year said Lynn had en­dangered chil­dren by al­low­ing two priests he had in­vest­ig­ated for sexu­al mis­con­duct with minors to con­tin­ue to live or work in Phil­adelphia par­ishes.

When he was ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary, Lynn 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 any con­tact with minors.

Pro­sec­utors in Au­gust said they wanted the 88-year-old Bevilac­qua’s testi­mony, but at­tor­neys for Lynn and the car­din­al countered that he is not fit to testi­fy be­cause he is suf­fer­ing from can­cer and de­men­tia.

Also, Lynn’s at­tor­neys, Jef­frey Lindy and Thomas Bergstrom, ques­tioned why pro­sec­utors need Bevilac­qua’s testi­mony when grand jur­ors whose re­port pre­cip­it­ated the monsignor’s ar­rest didn’t re­quire it.

In a phone in­ter­view Nov. 15, law pro­fess­or and at­tor­ney Marci Hamilton said she be­lieves pro­sec­utors want the car­din­al to testi­fy be­cause “Monsignor Lynn’s is­sues are dir­ectly re­lated to what Bevilac­qua knows.”

If the car­din­al says he knew noth­ing about what Lynn was do­ing in in­vest­ig­at­ing two priests ac­cused of be­ing child mo­lesters and in trans­fer­ring them to par­ishes in the arch­diocese, Hamilton said, then re­spons­ib­il­ity would lie dir­ectly with Lynn. That would help make the case against him, she said, which ex­plains why Bevilac­qua, who headed the arch­diocese from 1988 to 2003, is such an im­port­ant wit­ness for the pro­sec­u­tion.

He is so im­port­ant that pro­sec­utors used the claims that the car­din­al is too ill to testi­fy as an ar­gu­ment for pre­serving Bevilac­qua’s testi­mony on video­tape.

On the flip side, the Cath­ol­ic Church has been fight­ing to keep bish­ops from ever testi­fy­ing in sex-ab­use cases, said Hamilton, who is one of the at­tor­neys who rep­res­ents sev­er­al mo­lesta­tion vic­tims who are su­ing the arch­diocese, Bevilac­qua, Lynn and sev­er­al oth­er arch­dioces­an of­fi­cials.

“It is re­l­at­ively dif­fi­cult to get someone de­clared in­com­pet­ent to testi­fy,” Hamilton said.

“We’re grate­ful that Bevilac­qua will have to face tough ques­tions un­der oath,” said Bar­bara Dor­ris, a spokes­wo­man for the Sur­viv­ors Net­work of those Ab­used by Priests. “He shouldn’t be able to evade re­spons­ib­il­ity and justice by claim­ing to be ill … We wish he’d be forced to come to court like every­one else.”

Bevilac­qua’s testi­mony will be among that of between 65 and 75 wit­nesses, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Patrick Bless­ing­ton ex­pects to call in the four-month tri­al that is sched­uled to be­gin in Sarmina’s court in late March.

Pro­sec­utors main­tain that Lynn had al­lowed his co-de­fend­ants, priests 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.

Bren­nan, Avery, Lynn, the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former lay teach­er Bern­ard Shero all were ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary after a Phil­adelphia grand jury re­leased its re­port on sexu­al ab­use of minors by the city’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic clergy. This was the second Phil­adelphia grand jury that has looked in­to al­leg­a­tions of ab­use by clergy.

The Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice began in­vest­ig­at­ing Avery and En­gel­hardt in 2009 after the arch­diocese it­self no­ti­fied au­thor­it­ies about 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 ’99. The grand jury said En­gel­hardt then told Avery about the boy, and that Avery then began mo­lest­ing the child. Shero, a lay teach­er at St. Jerome’s par­ish school, began mo­lest­ing the boy the next year, grand jur­ors wrote. The vic­tim is now an adult.

The grand jury said Lynn knew of pre­vi­ous al­leg­a­tions in­volving a minor and had ordered Avery to get ther­apy. Grand jur­ors said Lynn ig­nored re­com­mend­a­tions to keep Avery away from chil­dren and had him as­signed to St. Jerome’s par­ish.

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

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

In Au­gust, Sarmina said jury se­lec­tion would be­gin Feb. 21, and set the tri­al to be­gin March 26. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

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