Cardinal Bevilacqua called to court in abuse case

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua listens to a reporter's question as St. Louis Archbishop Justin F. Rigali, right listens at a news conference in Philadelphia Tuesday July 15, 2003. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)
August 5, 2011 12:09:38 PM PDT
A judge on Friday summoned the 88-year-old former archbishop of Philadelphia to court next month to see if he should be deposed in a criminal priest-abuse case.

City prosecutors want to preserve Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's testimony before next year's trial because he suffers from cancer and dementia. Bevilacqua is a potential trial witness.

Monsignor William Lynn, 60, the secretary for clergy under Bevilacqua, is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy for allegedly transferring predator priests to new parishes without warning. He is the first U.S. church official charged in the priest-abuse scandal. Three priests and a former teacher are charged with rape and are co-defendants in the case, now set for trial on March 26.

Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia argued at a hearing Friday that Bevilacqua is too ill to testify, and noted that he did not testify before the grand jury in January because of his condition.

"The cardinal suffers from prostate cancer, dementia, anxiety, depression, (and) major sleep disorders and ... his mental/physical health continues to deteriorate," lawyers Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy wrote in their motion to block the testimony.

Bevilacqua, they said, did not recognize William Sasso, his lawyer of 20 years, at a recent meeting and requires round-the-clock nursing care. They argued that his testimony would be unreliable.

Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina asked for copies of Bevilacqua's medical records and ordered him to attend a Sept. 12 court hearing on the issue. She agreed Friday to the March trial date to give defense lawyers more time to prepare for what could be a four-month trial. But the delay makes it more important to preserve the cardinal's testimony if he is competent, but in declining health, she said.

His medical records will be filed under seal.

"We're certainly not going to have the cardinal's medical records floating around," Sarmina said.

Bevilacqua, trained as both a canon and civil lawyer, led the Philadelphia archdiocese from 1988 to 2003. The grand jury blasted his handling of priest-abuse complaints.

"The grand jurors have no doubt that his knowing and deliberate actions during his tenure as archbishop also endangered thousands of children," the report states. "Monsignor Lynn was carrying out the cardinal's policies exactly as the cardinal directed."

But prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to link him to the specific assaults in their criminal case.

Prosecutors instead charged Lynn with letting "a trio of pedophiles" rape a young altar boy, and another priest with raping a different boy as he slept.

Lynn's co-defendants are the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64, former priest Edward Avery, 68, former teacher Bernard Shero, 48, and the Rev. James Brennan, 48.

The February indictment followed the second of two grand jury investigations since 2002 of priest sexual abuse in the archdiocese. A 2005 report named dozens of credibly accused, active priests, but said no charges could be filed because of legal time limits.

The archdiocese, with about 500 active priests and nearly 1.5 million members, is a powerful force in Philadelphia. About one-third of the region is Catholic.

The pope last month named conservative Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver to succeed Archbishop Justin Rigali, whose actions to address the sex-abuse crisis since 2003 have been criticized by both the grand jury and the head of his own reform panel.


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