PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Five men facing charges in an unprecedented criminal sex-abuse case involving the Philadelphia Archdiocese will all be tried at the same time, a judge ruled Friday, denying motions to sever.
Attorneys for Monsignor William Lynn, 60, wanted their client tried separately from his four co-defendants, arguing that Lynn “is in an entirely different position.”
Unlike those defendants, Lynn is not accused of raping a minor.
Lynn, a portly man with a ruddy, pitted face and large jowls, rested his finger on pursed lips while his legal team argued his case.
He is the highest-ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to be criminally charged with child endangerment.
Common Pleas Judge Lillian Ransom summarily denied a motion to quash that charge Friday.
Lynn’s attorneys immediately moved for an interlocutory appeal to Pennsylvania’s Superior Court.
Attorney Thomas Bergstrom said the government is grossly misapplying the state’s child-endangerment statue in its prosecution of Lynn.
The charges against Lynn stem from his tenure as the archdiocese’s clergy secretary, a position that tasked him with assigning priests to parishes and dealing with sex-abuse complaints leveled against clerics.
A scathing February grand jury report by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office claims Lynn’s negligence eclipsed mere failure to uncover and prevent sex-abuse by priests. The grand jury found Lynn had facilitated abuse by assigning known sex predators to posts where they would have easy access to minors.
Those predators, the government says, include defendants Bernard Shero, a 47-year-old former parochial school teacher; defrocked priest Edward Avery, 68; the Rev. James Brennan, 47; and the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64.
Shero, Engelhardt and Avery are accused of raping a 10-year-old altar boy over a decade ago.
Brennan is accused of inserting his penis into a 14-year-old’s buttocks while working as a parochial vicar in suburban Philadelphia. The explicit allegation carries a distinction that could have significant legal implications.
Bergstrom said his client, Lynn, was merely involved in the priest-assignment process, and the prosecution is applying the endangering the welfare of children (EWOC) statute in an erroneously overbroad manner.
“The critical element to the EWOC statute is whether the adult … is in the position of supervising a child,” Bergstrom said.
As clergy secretary, Lynn was working in a capacity that “has nothing to do with supervising a child,” he said. “Zero.”
The EWOC statute “covers a broad array of conduct,” he argued. “It doesn’t cover a broad array of children.”
The statute’s application “is the cornerstone of this entire case,” and a controlling issue of law that demands consideration by an appeals court, he argued.
The government saw it much differently Friday.
“It’s got to be construed in a broad manner,” one prosecutor told Judge Ransom.
The issue of the EWOC statute’s scope is “not a fit or proper subject” for an interlocutory appeal, and ruling on this question would amount to needlessly “stopping everything in its tracks,” he said.
Judge Ransom agreed.
She declined to certify an appeal, but noted that Bergstrom was “certainly correct that reasonable minds could differ” on the issue.
Ransom also ruled on a slew of discovery-related motions Friday.
She ordered the government to give defense attorneys copies of receipts for prescription medications possibly taken by one of the complaining witnesses while giving statements to authorities during the heart of the investigation.
“I believe that the defense is entitled to know what medication [a complaining witness was taking] … that may impact his ability to perceive [while giving statements to prosecutors],” she said, noting that such disclosure will not violate the Mental Health Act.
Though defense attorneys clamored for more, requesting mental-health records for at least one of the two complaining witnesses, Ransom refused.
She also declined to release records concerning substance-abuse treatment one of the witnesses may have been receiving during the outset of the investigation.
Attorney Michael McGovern, representing Engelhardt, said Friday that the witness came “to the realization that he’s going to make his statement [to law enforcement] during drug treatment.”
“Without that [drug rehab] information the defense would be handicapped,” McGovern argued.
Ransom instead ordered the government to turn over documentation of any deals prosecutors may have reached with other law-enforcement agencies in connection with four other criminal cases in which a complaining witness may have been involved during the investigation.
Prosecutor Evangela Manos told Judge Ransom there was no quid pro quo deal motivating the witness to come forward.
“This person came to us as a victim,” she said. “There have been no deals [and] no talks of any deals.”
Ransom told attorneys that if they had further objections to her Friday rulings, they could file them on the record.
“Here’s what my belief is: that nobody is happy.”
A hearing is slated for August 5.
Last month, each defendant declined to take a plea deal. More than 20 priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese were placed on administrative leave in the wake of the February release of the grand jury report.