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Judge Halts Release Of Cardinal’s Secret Testimony

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A judge on Monday halted the release of 1,200 pages of grand jury testimony on a Roman Catholic cardinal relating to his handling of priest sex-abuse complaints in Philadelphia.

Prosecutors filed Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua’s secret testimony from 2003 to support conspiracy charges filed this year against a high-ranking church official, they said in court papers filed Friday.

Monsignor William Lynn, 60, is charged with conspiracy and child endangerment for allegedly transferring priest-predators without warning. Lynn served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under Bevilacqua.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday that Bevilacqua, the former archbishop, had testified that accused priests “would not be able to function” at new parishes if people were warned of their backgrounds.

Grand jurors found the leader of the Philadelphia archdiocese “excused and enabled” the abuse, and was “not forthright” and “untruthful” during 10 grand jury appearances over eight months, the newspaper reported. He was not charged because the statute of limitations had run out.

Common Pleas Judge Lillian Ransom put a hold on the further release of the grand jury testimony and other documents filed Friday. She did not immediately return a call for comment on her action Monday. Neither side asked to have the documents sealed.

Lynn is the only U.S. church official ever charged in the sex-abuse scandal for his administrative actions.

Four others — two priests, an ex-priest and a former teacher — are charged in the same criminal case with raping boys. Three of them raped the same boy, starting when he was a 10-year-old altar boy, a second grand jury charged this year.

The prosecution’s latest filings came in response to Lynn’s motion to have the charges dismissed or have his case tried separately.

“It is understandable that he would not want a jury to see the exact nature of the danger to which he subjected parish children, or the consequences of his action. But … the crimes Lynn enabled would clearly be admissible even if he were tried separately,” Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen wrote in the 65-page response, obtained by The Associated Press.

Lynn’s lawyers declined to comment Monday on the filings, citing an ongoing gag order in the case.

The motions will be argued at a key hearing Friday. Defense lawyers assert that he had no children in his care and cannot therefore be charged with endangering them.

Prosecutors argue the charge can apply to anyone with a duty to protect the general “welfare” of children, and not just those with direct supervision of them. The archdiocese was charged with protecting children at its schools and parishes, prosecutors wrote.

They said Lynn allowed “a trio of pedophiles” to “pass around” the 10-year-old, who did not report the abuse until years later, after battling depression and substance abuse.

The Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64, and former priest Edward Avery, 68, are accused of raping the boy in the church sacristy after prosecutors say Bernard Shero, 48, his sixth-grade teacher the next year, raped him during a ride home from school. The fourth rape defendant, the Rev. James Brennan, 48, is accused of raping a different boy.

Like Lynn, they are aggressively fighting the charges, rejecting a plea offer that would have sent them to prison for 7 1/2 to 15 years. Lynn faces up to 28 years on the two counts.

In his grand jury testimony, Bevilacqua at times deflected responsibility for the transfer of problem priests to Lynn.

“These are the details that I leave to my secretary for the clergy,” he said, according to the Inquirer.

When a juror asked him if the priest-abuse problems stemmed from negligence or something more, Bevilacqua denied either, the newspaper said.
“I didn’t even raise it to the level of strict negligence,” replied Bevilacqua, trained in both canon and civil law. “I see that we did the best we could.”

Victims have filed several related civil suits against the archdiocese in the wake of this year’s grand jury report.

The archdiocese, with about 500 active priests and nearly 1.5 million members, is a powerful force in Philadelphia. About one-third of the region is Catholic.

Last week, the pope named conservative Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver to succeed Archbishop Justin Rigali, who was also excoriated by the grand jury for his reform efforts over the past eight years.

Bevilacqua, now 88, suffers from cancer and dementia, the February report said.

“On balance, we cannot conclude that a successful prosecution can be brought against the cardinal — at least for the moment,” the grand jury said in February.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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