PHILADELPHIA (CN) - At an intensely combative and vitriolic hearing Friday afternoon in a sex-abuse case that has shaken the Philadelphia Archdiocese to its core, the judge left one defense attorney seething after disclosing that he could be disqualified from the case because the government thinks the lawyer might be a witness as a former seminarian.
The lawyer, who represents a current Roman Catholic priest charged with raping a boy in his parish, fired back that prosecutors were being "anti-Catholic" and had uttered an "abomination."
Court of Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes told defense attorney Richard DeSipio that she's received information that "might make you, in fact, a witness because of events that occurred while you were a seminarian."
The information "stems from the fact that you attended the seminary with a student who asserts he was abused," Hughes said, adding that DeSipio "may possess factual knowledge about abuse that occurred with that student."
She added that the substance of the claim that DeSipio witnessed something is still unclear. "I just don't know if it's true," Hughes said. "I really don't know if it's true."
Yelling and visibly upset, DeSipio demanded that the government, then and there, identify the source of the allegation. "Let them spill it out right now!" DeSipio demanded.
"How dare they send you a letter about that," DeSipio said, referring to the district attorney's office. "That's an abomination."
Monsignor William Lynn, who is accused of giving sex abusers easy access to minors, was the dean of students at a seminary while DeSipio attended the school, a prosecutor said. The charges against Lynn stem from his tenure as clergy secretary for the Philadelphia Archdiocese where he acted as personnel director for priests. He is reportedly the highest-ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States ever to be charged with child endangerment. Unlike his four co-defendants, including two current and one former priest, Lynn is not charged with rape or sexual assault.
"They are anti-Catholic. I'll say it," DeSipio fumed. "[The district attorney is] attacking me as a Catholic!"
The judge rejected DeSipio's claim. "Attack you? You attacked me! You don't even know me!" Hughes said, referring to a prior argument over the necessity of a preliminary hearing, another hotly contested issue Friday afternoon.
"Mr. DeSipio, I suggest you shut up," Hughes said. "People are coming from out of the woodwork [to provide information to the commonwealth.]"
If the government can prove the allegation is credible in 30 days, DeSipio will be disqualified as an attorney for one of the priests charged with rape, the Rev. James Brennan.
"You can change lawyers now, you can change lawyers in 30," the judge warned DeSipio's client. "[But] there are some conflicts that are not waivable."
DeSipio argued that the 30-day investigation was "really unfair to Father Brennan," given his mounting legal costs.
Judge Hughes was livid that DeSipio spoke up again. "If you open your mouth one more time I am going to have the sheriff take you out of here," she told DeSipio.
As DeSipio continued to argue, Hughes said she might have him "locked up and held in contempt." Instead she issued a gag order, responding to what she observed as attorneys having "gone to the airways to advocate."
"No more interviews with anyone," the judge ruled.