Pa. church official wants new judge, alleges bias

February 8, 2012 - 4:15 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Roman Catholic church official wants a judge to step down from his child-endangerment case after she called the church's sex-abuse crisis "widespread."

"Anybody that doesn't think there is widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is living on another planet," Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said at a Jan. 31 pretrial hearing.

Monsignor William Lynn, 61, is the first U.S. church official charged with child endangerment and conspiracy for allegedly keeping predator priests in ministry.

His lawyers argue in a recusal motion filed Wednesday that Sarmina's remarks show she is "obviously partial" to prosecutors. They also cite her decision Monday to let the jury hear about abuse complaints involving 21 priests not charged in the case.

Sarmina, through an aide, said judicial rules bar her from commenting on the pending case.

The indictment focuses only on Lynn's interactions with three priests and a teacher charged with rape. Two of them are being tried separately, leaving just two men at the defense table with him.

"The Court appears to have arrived at a conclusion about the existence of a church-wide conspiracy and Monsignor Lynn's role in it," defense lawyers Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy wrote.

They accuse Sarmina of improperly expanding the scope of the trial by admitting the uncharged abuse cases.

"The 22 mini-trials will overshadow, swallow, confuse and prejudice the narrow scope of the two actual charges against Monsignor Lynn, ... and transform (his) trial into a trial against the entire Archdiocese of Philadelphia."

Prosecutors have successfully argued that the other cases show how Lynn, and others, routinely hid abuse complaints in secret church files. They call the archdiocese an unindicted co-conspirator.

Lynn served as secretary for clergy in the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004. Defense lawyers say he was a mid-level bureaucrat who took orders from then-Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who had been a key figure in the case. Bevilacqua died last week at age 88.

Prosecutors cannot comment on the filing because of a gag order.

Lynn faces up to 28 years if convicted on all counts. His lawyers also renewed their motion to sever his case from the two remaining co-defendants, the Rev. James Brennan and former priest Edward Avery. Each is charged with raping a teen boy in the mid-1990s.

Jury selection is set to start Feb. 21.