Legal arguments for and against using decades-old allegations against Philadelphia priests as evidence in the upcoming sexual abuse trial of two priests and an ex-priest continued Monday, with one defense attorney claiming that sorting out what evidence could be presented is “an impossible task.”
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said she would decide on what she’ll allow at trial by or before Feb. 6. However, the judge did rule that retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the city’s former archbishop, could be called as a witness.
Recapping three-days of hearings last week, prosecutors on Monday said they want to relate more than a score of clerical case histories going back 40 or more years in order to give jurors a more complete picture of how the city’s Roman Catholic archdiocese handles molestation allegations.
“It’s all about the natural history of the case,” said Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington.
Defense attorneys for Monsignor William Lynn, the Rev. James Brennan and former priest Edward Avery argued the material about other priests taken from archdiocesan records had no bearing on the charges their clients are facing and that presenting it as trial evidence would be prejudicial.
The three were arrested in February 2011 along with Charles Engelhardt, an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales, and former lay teacher Bernard Shero. Engelhardt and the former teacher will be tried later. Lynn, Brennan and Avery are slated for trial March 26.
On Tuesday, defense attorneys and Blessington reviewed with the judge questions that they will ask prospective jurors.
Brennan is accused of sexually abusing a minor and so is Avery. Engelhardt and Shero also are facing molestation charges. Lynn, who served as Bevilacqua’s secretary for clergy, is not accused of touching a child. Rather, the monsignor faces charges his actions allowed Brennan and Avery to commit the crimes they’re accused of. He is charged with endangering children. All have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors last week related accounts of accusations against priests — at times, in disturbing detail — as defense attorneys debated the value of bringing up old allegations of priests not on trial.
Thomas Bergstrom, one of Lynn’s lawyers, insisted that the evidence presented should be about the actions of the defendants, but said Lynn was in high school when some of the actions allegedly committed by other priests were taking place.
He said Judge Sarmina has been given the “impossible task” of separating what might be prejudicial to his client from what wouldn’t be.
“This case is not impossible,” countered Blessington. “It’s unprecedented.”
Lynn is facing trial because his actions — or inactions — made it possible for Brennan and Avery to molest children, Blessington said. Before the court told lawyers they may not discuss the case openly, prosecutors had said Lynn was the first member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the country charged in a molestation case, not as a molester, but as someone who enabled child molestation.
“He let these guys commit crimes,” Blessington said.
William Brennan, James Brennan’s attorney, said prosecutors were trying to build a history of prior bad acts against his client when all they had was the one witness he is accused of abusing.
None of the case histories brought up by prosecutors last week applies to his client, Brennan said. And, the lawyer argued, bringing up old complaints that the Rev. Brennan had noisy parties or that he drank too much would only prejudice jurors against him.
“Every piece of evidence is prejudicial,” Blessington said.
Bergstrom renewed defense requests to not allow Cardinal Bevilacqua’s videotaped testimony to be played in the trial and to not allow the cardinal to testify either, saying the 88-year-old former leader of the city’s Roman Catholics was not competent to testify.
Sarmina brushed that request aside, holding to her earlier decision to allow the cardinal to testify.
Defense attorneys had tried to keep Bevilacqua, for whom Lynn had worked, from testifying because he suffers from dementia and cancer, but in the fall, Sarmina took — and taped — testimony from the ailing cardinal at his suburban residence.
The cardinal doesn’t recognize Lynnn, the Bergstrom said.
The attorney unsuccessfully argued Monday that using Bevilacqua’s taped testimony would deny defense attorneys the chance to cross-examine him and that court testimony wouldn’t be worthy because the cardinal’s memory is impaired.
Bevilacqua, who has a law degree, did not testify before the grand jury whose investigations led to the arrests of Lynn and the others. He did, however, answer questions before a previous grand jury. ••EndFragment