Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua can be examined by a prosecution expert to see whether he is competent to answer questions about the handling of claims that local priests sexually abused children when he led the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a judge said Friday.
Ruling on a request from assistant district attorneys, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said that she was proceeding under the assumption the retired cardinal was competent to testify in the trial of a former aide, but that she would await more information before deciding whether, when, or where he takes the stand.
Sarmina canceled plans for three days of testimony from Bevilacqua later this month, but set Nov. 28 as a tentative hearing date.
She also left intact a gag order barring lawyers and defendants from publicly commenting on the case.
The battle over the 88-year-old cardinal’s testimony has emerged as a subplot in the looming trial of three priests, a defrocked priest, and a former Catholic-school teacher. Four of the men are accused in the alleged rapes of two boys in the 1990s.
Prosecutors say the fifth defendant, Msgr. William J. Lynn, the archdiocese’s former secretary for clergy, endangered children by failing to remove sexually abusive priests or recommending them for posts that gave them access to minors.
They want to depose Bevilacqua, who was Lynn’s boss between 1992 and 2003, to bolster their contention that the practice was part of a broader pattern or directive among church leaders.
They also have asked the judge to allow them to capture Bevilacqua’s answers in a videotaped deposition before the scheduled March trial because of claims that his health is failing. [more]