Philly judge again finds church cardinal competent

January 30, 2012 - 4:35 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A retired Roman Catholic cardinal with dementia is competent and his recent deposition testimony can be used at an upcoming priest abuse trial, a judge ruled Monday.

A church official charged with child endangerment and accused of keeping pedophiles in ministry argues that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua can no longer recognize him, even though he served the cardinal for more than a decade.

Monsignor William Lynn, 61, is the first U.S. church official ever charged in the priest abuse crisis over accusations of administrative failings.

Prosecutors argue that Lynn and the archdiocese fed predators a steady stream of young victims for decades rather than expose the church to scandal — and costly lawsuits. Lynn served as secretary of clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. He faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

His lawyers hint that he won't go down alone. They stress that Lynn took his marching orders from Bevilacqua, who was never charged despite two grand jury reports that blasted both the cardinal's leadership and his 10 grand jury appearances.

They say prosecutors are trying to make Lynn the scapegoat for the dozens of Philadelphia priests credibly accused of abusing children.

Prosecutors, though, say Lynn was among the select few who had access to sex abuse complaints kept in "secret archives" at the archdiocese.

No one was charged after the first grand jury report in 2005 because of legal time limits.

The second report last year recommended charging Lynn with child endangerment; prosecutors later added conspiracy charges as well. In court last week, they called the archdiocese "an unindicted co-conspirator."

Lynn is set to go on trial in March with two co-defendants, a priest and a defrocked priest who are each charged with sexually assaulting a single boy, based on complaints filed under newly expanded time limits in Pennsylvania. Lynn's defense lawyers want to limit the trial to his handling of those two men alone.

Prosecutors hope to tell jurors how Lynn and other church officials handled the careers of 27 other priests "credibly accused," to show a pattern of behavior.

The judge heard details of those allegations, which range from "grooming" to fondling to rape, for several days last week. She pledged to rule by Monday.

"It's very, very difficult, and maybe impossible, for us to defend 27 or 28 cases, which involve disparate elements and occurred 20, 30, 40 years ago," Thomas Bergstrom, a lawyer for Lynn, argued Monday.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington debated the point.

"This case is not impossible, it's (just) unprecedented," he said.

Defense lawyers may call Bevilacqua to court if prosecutors seek to use his recent testimony. Bevilacqua was deposed in late November, to preserve his sworn statements in case he is unavailable during the monthslong trial. The retired cardinal suffers from both dementia and an undisclosed form of cancer, church lawyers have said.

Lynn's co-defendants are former priest Edward Avery, 69, and the Rev. James Brennan, 48.

Brennan's lawyer also wants to keep out the uncharged priest abuse allegations, lest his client get "swept up" by the tide.

"If that comes in, the danger we confront is whether my client, a Catholic priest, is going to be swept up in a perception that the Catholic Church, that the archdiocese, has a big problem, and he's one of them, so he must be guilty," said lawyer William Brennan, who isn't related to his client.

Jury selection is scheduled for Feb. 21. The trial is scheduled to start on March 26.