PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Four defendants in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex-abuse scandal refused Monday to plead guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and serve up to 15 years in prison.
“Judge, I have an offer of 7.5 to 15 years, which is not acceptable,” said attorney Burton Rose, representing former parochial school teacher Bernard Shero.
A grand jury report released in February recommended that Shero, 48, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64, and defrocked priest Edward Avery, 68, be prosecuted for allegedly raping a 10-year-old altar boy over a decade ago.
The Rev. James Brennan, 47, is accused of inserting his penis into a 14-year-old’s buttocks while working as a parochial vicar in suburban Philadelphia.
The four have pleaded not guilty to rape and related charges.
A fifth defendant, Monsignor William Lynn, 60, stands accused of giving sexual predators easy access to minors while working as clergy secretary for the archdiocese.
Lynn is reportedly the highest-ranking Catholic Church official in the United States to be charged criminally for allegedly covering up sexual abuse.
His attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, argued his motion to quash that charge Monday.
Should the motion be denied, Bergstrom wants his client tried separately from the other defendants.
“Defendant Lynn is in an entirely different position,” Bergstrom said, noting that the other defendants, unlike Lynn, are facing sexual assault charges.
Court of Common Pleas Judge Lillian Ransom said she would consider Bergstrom’s position, but noted that it was “not likely that a motion to sever would be granted.”
Bergstrom said the government’s bill of information is woefully vague concerning the time period that Lynn allegedly committed the child-endangerment offense.
“I don’t want these dates to be a moving target,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Evangela Manos said the government has provided the requisite specificity, alleging that the offense occurred between 1995 and 2004.
Bergstrom lampooned the remark. “It’s a nine-year date!” he said. “That’s not a date, that’s a decade!”
Attorney Michal McGovern, representing Engelhardt, said the government was similarly obtuse about the conspiracy charge that all five defendants face.
“There hasn’t been any specificity as to who the co-conspirators are,” he said, adding that it’s “like looking for a light switch in a dark room.”
Judge Ransom ordered the government to file a bill of particulars by June 13 that specifically outlines who conspired with whom to do what.
The conspiracy charge remains a hotly contested issue in the case.
Prosecutors apparently forgot to ask the grand jury to authorize the charge, forcing the government to amend its case after the defendants were arrested.
Defense attorneys on Monday moved to quash the conspiracy charge, which, Bergstrom argued, “doesn’t stand on any legal footing at all.”
The charge “didn’t go through the grand jury [and] didn’t go through a preliminary [hearing],” he argued.
A previous judge on the case who has since left the court granted the government’s motion to bypass a preliminary hearing on the conspiracy charge in late March, finding there was ample evidence to support the conspiracy allegation, and that the failure to bring the charge originally was merely a “technical error” by the government.
McGovern also sought the court’s permission for Engelhardt to visit relatives in Sea Isle City, N.J.
Manos, the prosecutor, said she had “extreme concern” about rolling back the travel restrictions on Engelhardt, who has been prohibited from leaving Pennsylvania.
The government “vehemently objects” to the request, Manos said, citing concerns about whether children might be staying near the home Engelhardt wants to visit.
Judge Ransom declined to allow Engelhardt to go back and forth from Pennsylvania to New Jersey as he pleases.
“Pick a weekend,” she told McGovern, who settled on Independence Day weekend.
Engelhardt must return to Pennsylvania by July 5, the judge said.
“I’m not gonna set it up for summers at the shore,” Ransom said.
Supplemental pleadings are due by July 22.
A gag order remains in place.