What Does Cardinal's Passing Mean for Sex Abuse Case

Philadelphia Inquirer
February 1, 2012

The day before his death, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua was declared legally competent to testify at the upcoming trial of two Catholic priests and a former priest on sex abuse charges.

Now, it's unclear what impact his passing will have on the case.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office sought to have testimony by Bevilacqua presented to jurors at the trial of Rev. James J. Brennan and Edward Avery, a former priest, for allegedly abusing boys in separate incidents in the 1990s.

Msgr. William J. Lynn, a secretary for clergy under Bevilacqua, is accused putting the duo in positions that allowed the alleged abuse to continue.

A judge ruled Monday that testimony from Bevilacqua, suffering from dementia, could be used. The cardinal died Tuesday at age 88.

Prosecutors hoped to use Bevilacqua as part of their case when the trial starts Feb. 22. They seek to demonstrate to jurors that the abuse within the archdiocese was widespread, and that pedophile priests were transferred to new parishes.

Indeed, Bevilacqua's passing could have created a vacuum of knowledge, say survivors of abuse.

"With the passing of Cardinal Bevilacqua, we will never learn the full truth about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups," Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement issued shortly after his death.

SNAP, a national advocacy network, was monitoring the trial closely.

The defense for the three accused argued against admitting testimony from Bevilacqua. Lynn's attorney said Bevilacqua's mental deterioration made it impossible for them to cross-examine him.

"He could not even identify my own client," Lynn's attorney, Thomas A. Bergstrom, said.

The judge in the case disagreed. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled in November that Bevilacqua's words would be admissible.

Bergstrom renewed his request to have the testimony disqualified. On Monday, Sarmina stood by her earlier decision.

"I'll adhere to my original ruling," Sarmina said, noting that she was open to revisiting the competency issue.

Testimony was set to start March 26.


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