Retired Philadelphia cardinal testifies in rape, endangerment case

A retired Roman Catholic cardinal who suffers from cancer and dementia testified behind closed doors for about three hours Monday as lawyers prepare for a groundbreaking priest abuse trial.

Prosecutors deposed 88-year-old former cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua in case he cannot appear for the March trial of three priests, an ex-teacher and a church administrator. The three priests and the former teacher are charged with raping boys. The administrator is the first Roman Catholic church official charged in the U.S. for his administrative actions.

Bevilacqua’s deposition was set to resume Tuesday at the cardinal’s residence at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, just outside Philadelphia.

Church lawyers fought to block Bevilacqua’s testimony. However, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina deemed him competent Monday after reviewing his medical records and meeting with him Monday morning, her office said.

The church administrator, Monsignor William Lynn, Bevilacqua’s longtime secretary for clergy, is charged with felony child endangerment and conspiracy. He’s accused of transferring predator priests without warning new parishes.

Defense lawyers argue that Lynn was following orders from Bevilacqua, who led the archdiocese from 1988 to 2003. Lynn, 60, served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004.

More than a dozen prosecutors, defense lawyers, defendants and court staff were on hand for Bevilacqua’s deposition. Given his health problems, it’s unclear how much his testimony helped city prosecutors who had sought it. A gag order prevents the parties from publicly discussing the case.

Less than a decade ago, they had grilled Bevilacqua in his 10 appearances before the grand jury investigating credible complaints filed against 63 priests in the Philadelphia area.

Bevilacqua’s testimony is seen as a key element of the trial, which is set for March 26 and expected to take several months.

Another key pretrial issue is the scope of evidence that will be allowed. Prosecutors want to include Lynn’s handling of a broad swath of child abuse complaints against priests, to try to show a pattern of wrongdoing. Lynn’s lawyers want to limit the evidence to the three priests on trial with him.

They are the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64, the Rev. James Brennan, 48, and former priest Edward Avery, 69, along with former teacher Bernard Shero, 48. All of them have denied the charges.

Engelhardt, Avery and Shero are accused of raping the same child, starting when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in northeast Philadelphia, according to the February grand jury report. Brennan is charged with raping a 14-year-old boy from a suburban parish.

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