The past is relevant, says judge in priest case

A com­plete pic­ture.

That’s what a judge wants jur­ors to get as they de­cide the fate of two priests and an ex-priest in a child mo­lesta­tion tri­al due to start in late March.

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled Monday that re­cords of how the city’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic arch­diocese in­vest­ig­ated com­plaints of sexu­al ab­use of minors could be used in evid­ence in the tri­al of former priest Ed­ward Avery, the Rev. James Bren­nan and Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn.

Over three court ses­sions last month, pro­sec­utors re­lated the re­cords of Bren­nan and Avery’s al­leged “pri­or bad acts” as well as those of more than 20 oth­er priests. As­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­neys took turns of­fer­ing the court the of­ten-lur­id de­tails found in the arch­diocese’s own re­cords. They claimed the church moved those priests from par­ish to par­ish without re­port­ing them to po­lice. Sarmina said she will al­low all but six of those case his­tor­ies as evid­ence dur­ing the tri­al.

Al­though Avery and Bren­nan are fa­cing tri­al on charges they each mo­les­ted a boy, the arch­diocese had files of com­plaints against the men.

Sarmina said Monday that jur­ors in some cases should be giv­en full pic­tures of the past be­ha­vi­or of de­fend­ants. That is par­tic­u­larly true in child mo­lesta­tion cases, she said.

“The evid­ence is all ne­ces­sary,” she said.

Avery’s and Bren­nan’s arch­dioces­an case his­tor­ies are im­port­ant to pro­sec­utors’ case against Lynn, who they said in­vest­ig­ated com­plaints against the men. Lynn, sec­ret­ary for clergy un­der Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua from 1992 to 2004, is not charged with mo­lest­ing minors, but with en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren for al­legedly mak­ing Avery and Bren­nan’s ac­tions pos­sible. His “will­ful blind­ness,” one as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­ney said last month, res­ul­ted in more chil­dren be­ing mo­les­ted.

Lynn, Bren­nan and Avery all have pleaded not guilty to charges that in­clude con­spir­acy. They were ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2011 along with Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, and former Cath­ol­ic school teach­er Bern­ard Shero. En­gel­hardt and Shero also have pleaded not guilty. They will be tried in Septem­ber.

Sarmina said she would give jur­ors cau­tion­ary in­struc­tions about what evid­ence ap­plies to the in­di­vidu­al de­fend­ants. But law­yer Wil­li­am Bren­nan, who rep­res­ents the Rev. Bren­nan, said case his­tor­ies of oth­er priests ac­cused of sexu­ally ab­us­ing minors would taint his cli­ent’s case.

“Cau­tion­ary in­struc­tion is about as use­ful as an 8-track tape,” he told the judge.

The at­tor­ney said he will ar­gue to sever his cli­ent’s tri­al from that of the oth­er de­fend­ants. The five men ar­res­ted last year after a grand jury re­leased its find­ings all were set to be tried to­geth­er, but Shero’s and then En­gel­hardt’s law­yers ar­gued for them to be tried later. Those ar­gu­ments were at first un­suc­cess­ful, but even­tu­ally pre­vailed.

After the judge ruled on what evid­ence she would ad­mit, Jef­frey Lindy, one of Lynn’s at­tor­neys, told the court that he had been in­formed that the arch­diocese had answered a sub­poena last week by sup­ply­ing about 22,000 pages of doc­u­ments.

“Why is this evid­ence just com­ing in now?” he asked Sarmina. Lindy sug­ges­ted that de­fense at­tor­neys and pro­sec­utors get to­geth­er to de­cide if the March 26 tri­al date re­mains real­ist­ic giv­en the rock­slide of doc­u­ments that came in on Feb. 3.

“It’s over­whelm­ing,” he said, adding, however, that the doc­u­ments had to be ex­amined be­cause they might con­tain ma­ter­i­al be­ne­fi­cial to his cli­ent.

Jury se­lec­tion is ex­pec­ted to be­gin this month and take a month to com­plete. At­tor­neys and Sarmina met in court last week to learn which ques­tions they may ask pro­spect­ive jur­ors.

In Au­gust, when the five de­fend­ants were slated to be tried to­geth­er, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Patrick Bless­ing­ton said he ex­pec­ted to call between 65 and 75 wit­nesses and that the tri­al would last four months.

On Jan. 30, Sarmina ruled Bevilac­qua, who was Lynn’s boss, was a com­pet­ent wit­ness and could be called to testi­fy. The 88-year-old re­tired arch­bish­op died in his sleep Jan. 31. ••

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

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