Judge in priest abuse case sets Monday for evidence ruling

ATTORNEYS preparing for the trial of Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing altar boys - or allowing the abuse - made their final arguments yesterday regarding what evidence will be admissible at trial.

Prosecutors want to be able to tell jurors about the sexual misdeeds of 27 former Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests never charged criminally.

They contend that defendant Monsignor William Lynn allowed some of those men to remain in the priesthood and around vulnerable children when he served as secretary for clergy, from 1992 to 2004.

Lynn, 61, is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy connected to two priests, James Brennan, 48, and Edward Avery, 69, who is now defrocked. Both are accused of raping a different altar boy after being transferred by Lynn.

During three days of hearings last week, prosecutors told Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that apprising jurors of the 27 cases would help them understand Lynn's pattern of behavior.

Yesterday, however, one of Lynn's attorneys questioned the relevance of such old cases, some dating from the 1940s.

"It's a difficult task, and I think it's impossible," attorney Thomas Bergstrom said of Sarmina's job of reviewing the cases for admissible evidence.

"It's not impossible, it's unprecedented," Chief of Special Investigations Patrick Blessington said, noting that Lynn is the first Catholic church official in U.S. history to be tried in an abuse case because of his administrative actions.

Blessington said that Lynn should have known what would happen if he transferred predator priests between parishes.

Attorneys William Bowe, for Avery, and William Brennan, for James Brennan, argued that their clients had nothing to do with the old cases and also asked Sarmina not to allow them into the trial, scheduled to begin in March.

Sarmina said that she would make a ruling by Monday. She also reaffirmed an earlier ruling that retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua is competent to serve as a trial witness.

In response to that ruling, Bergstrom filed a motion in December to bar Bevilacqua from testifying. Yesterday, he argued that Bevilacqua - who had been Lynn's boss - has little memory of the last 20 years and that he could not recognize Lynn during a November deposition when the cardinal's testimony was recorded for trial use.

He said that allowing the cardinal to testify would be unfair to the defense because he likely would not be able to answer many questions under cross-examination.

Unswayed, the judge said that Bevilacqua, 88 and ailing, could testify in person.