Delay sought in priests' trial

Posted: March 25, 2012

A judge is expected to rule Monday morning on a request to delay the landmark trial of Philadelphia priests accused of conspiring to cover up clergy sex abuse.

Opening statements had been scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. in a third-floor courtroom at the city's criminal justice center.

But lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn and the Rev. James J. Brennan said that publicity over last week's unexpected guilty plea by a third defendant might have tainted the jury.

They have asked Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to consider picking a new jury - a process that could take weeks - or to question the 12 jurors and 10 alternates individually to ensure they haven't been unduly influenced.

Lynn, the secretary for clergy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, is the first Catholic church supervisor to face trial for allegedly enabling or protecting abusive priests. He is charged with felony endangerment and conspiracy.

Brennan is accused of the similar charges and of allegedly raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

The third defendant, defrocked priest Edward V. Avery, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy and sexually assaulting a 10-year-old Northeast Philadelphia altar boy in 1999. He was sentenced to 2 ½ to 5 years in prison.

Two other men charged in the case - one a priest and the other a former Catholic school teacher - will be tried separately.

Courthouse administrators have reserved dozens of seats to accommodate a crush of local and national media for the trial. Sarmina has banned cell phones or other electronic devices from the courtroom, and will require spectators to pass through metal detectors.

The defense lawyers have also asked the judge to lift the gag order barring them, their clients or the archdiocese from publicly commenting on the case. Sarmina said she will rule on that request before the trial opens.

Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or at Follow him @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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