PHILADELPHIA (CN) – State prosecutors can have their medical expert evaluate the former archbishop of the Philadelphia Archdiocese to determine if he’s competent to testify in an unprecedented criminal sex-abuse trial slated for March.
Attorneys for retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua say their client is unfit to testify because the 88-year-old suffers from dementia and other illnesses.
Prosecutors believe his testimony is critical to their case against his former aide, Monsignor William Lynn, the most high-ranking Roman Catholic Church official in America to be charged criminally with enabling sex-abuse against children.
Lynn, a jowly man with a ruddy, pitted face, thinning salt-and-pepper hair and thick-framed glasses, was accused in a February grand jury report of assigning known predator-priests to posts where they would have easy access to children.
He is not charged with sexual assault.
This stands in stark contrast to his co-defendants- three current and former priests plus a one-time parochial school teacher accused of raping or molesting a minor.
The competency examination is slated for November 28, the same day Bevilacqua is scheduled to give a videotaped deposition.
Prosecutors say the deposition is needed to preserve evidence in light of the prelate’s failing health.
Thomas Bergstrom, representing Lynn, asked Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to lift a gag order issued by a prior judge a request prosecutors opposed Friday.
“I think the shoe should be lifted,” Bergstrom said.
But Sarmina refused, citing the need to keep prejudice at bay in a case that has generated tremendous media attention.
“The gag order is going to continue in effect,” she ruled.
Sarmina held a contempt hearing Friday for a defense attorney quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer articlepublished this week.
That article reported on an alleged standing ovation Lynn received from scores of priests at an invitation-only dinner hosted by the newly-appointed chief of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Archbishop Charles Chaput.
Sarmina asked Jeff Lindy, also representing Lynn, if he needed counsel to represent him during the contempt hearing.
Lindy declined: “I have plenty of counsel on call in case this goes the wrong way,” he said, flanked by a phalanx of defense attorneys in pinstriped suits.
Lindy said it was his understanding that attorneys were merely barred from speaking directly about the case itself.
“This conversation [with the reporter] was about some dinner that the new archbishop had,” he told the judge.
“I would never comment on this case outside the courtroom,” he said.
Declining to find Lindy in contempt, Sarmina seemed less than satisfied with Lindy’s argument that commenting on the dinner didn’t amount to commenting on the case.
“It’s all interwoven, Mr. Lindy,” Sarmina said.
“Let me just make it perfectly clear: You’re not to talk to the media. Period.”
Also at issue Friday was an accusation by defense attorney Bergstrom that prosecutors released thousands of pages of grand jury testimony to the media without a court order.
Bergstrom said the testimony was released “in violation of a very clear statute,” and that prosecutors are now responsible for “poisoning the well from which we are going to draw a jury.”
“Frankly, they are in contempt,” he said.
But Judge Sarmina said the issue wasn’t hers to decide, and that it should be argued in front of the judge who presided over an earlier phase of the case.
Prosecutors on Friday submitted to Sarmina a list of 70 individuals that the government may call as witnesses during next year’s trial.
They acknowledged, however, that the list wasn’t comprehensive, and that “there very well may be people who are omitted from this list.”
Attorney Michael McGovern, representing the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, said it was utterly unacceptable that the government has yet to provide him with a conclusive witness list despite a court order.
“I just want to know if there are certain orders that we could ignore if we choose to,” he rhetorically asked the judge.
In a heated exchange that prompted Judge Sarmina to warn attorneys against directly addressing counsel, a prosecutor said the government has no responsibility to provide the defense with “some paint by numbers of what the case is going to be.”
“This is not rocket science,” she said.
“I don’t have to give them a roadmap.”
Proposed voir dire questions are due December 16.
Bernard Shero, 48; the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64; and defrocked priest Edward Avery, 69, are accused of raping a 10-year-old altar boy over a decade ago.
The Rev. James Brennan, 48, is accused of sexually molesting a 14-year-old while working as a parochial vicar in suburban Philadelphia.
All four refused plea deals in June that would have sent them to prison for up 15 years.
Lynn, 60, is charged with endangering the welfare of children.
He received hugs from supporters outside Sarmina’s courtroom Friday.Over 20 Philadelphia Archdiocese priests were placed on administrative leave in the wake of the February release of the grand jury report.