By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A judge on Friday skipped a preliminary hearing and ordered an immediate trial for a Catholic monsignor, two priests and others named in the sexual abuse scandal rocking the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Dismissing arguments by defense attorneys, Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes told Monsignor William Lynn and his four co-defendants they would proceed directly to trial in the priest pedophilia case.
Lynn, a former secretary of the clergy in the Archdiocese, faces charges of child endangerment. Priests Charles Engelhardt and Edward Avery, former priest James Brennan and former Diocesan teacher Bernard Shero face rape and other criminal charges.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is the sixth largest in the United States with 1.5 million Catholics.
A clearly irritated judge also issued a gag order on lawyers for both sides, instructing them not to grant interviews or appear in the media. Her ruling was based on the "extraordinary" number of interviews already conducted by both sides over the last two weeks.
Hughes issued several other rulings, including allowing the district attorney to file a conspiracy charge against the defendants and to allow Brennan to be prosecuted in Philadelphia even though his lawyers argued that none of the incidents he is charged with took place in Philadelphia.
Sparks flew in the courtroom when Brennan's lawyer, Richard DeSipio, complained about a letter the district attorney sent to the judge. It cited a possible conflict of interest for DeSipio, a former seminarian who later became a lawyer, noting he may have come in contact with a potential witness in the case when he was training to become a priest 28 years ago.
Hughes said the district attorney was bound by law to tell her of any potential conflict.
"If you open your mouth one more time, I will have the sheriff take you out of here," Hughes told DeSipio, threatening to have him locked up.
At various other points in the heated hearing, Hughes told the gaggle of defense lawyers talking over one another to "shut up."
The judge also sharply questioned Lynn about his use of two attorneys paid by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She asked whether he understood that his personal interest might differ from the Archdiocese's interest in the case. She also asked whether he was aware he faced up to 28 years in prison if he is convicted of all counts against him.
"You understand, that this is a natural conflict of interest?" Hughes asked.
Lynn remained firm in his decision to retain the church-paid attorneys.
He and his four co-defendants are scheduled for formal arraignment on the charges on April 15.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)