By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Lawyers for a defendant in a Catholic church sex abuse scandal argued on Thursday that a retired cardinal should be precluded from testifying at an upcoming criminal trial, comparing his mind to an empty room.
Whether Anthony Bevilacqua, 88, is well enough to testify has become a pivotal issue in the sex abuse trial of three priests, one now defrocked, and a former archdiocese school teacher. Another church official, Monsignor William Lynn, faces charges of child endangerment but is not accused of abuse.
The motion filed by attorneys representing Lynn, who was the secretary of the clergy when Bevilacqua was the archbishop of Philadelphia, came after two days of testimony at a closed-door deposition last month.
"His memory is not simply impaired, it is devoid of any recollection of the people, documents or underlying facts which comprise this prosecution or the events of the last 20 years," said the motion, filed on Thursday by lawyers Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy.
"For the most part, his memory bank was an empty room," it added.
The three priests and the former archdiocese school teacher are charged with sexual abuse of children between 1996 and 1999 when Bevilacqua led the church, in a case that has thrust the Philadelphia archdiocese into the national limelight.
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has ruled that the cardinal was competent to testify at a criminal trial expected to begin next spring.
In their motion, the lawyers said Bevilacqua was unable to identify Lynn, who was the cardinal's secretary of the clergy for years. Lynn was present at the deposition, they said, and stood in front of the cardinal.
"There were times during the deposition he appeared to struggle, to the point of tears, at his inability to recall and effectively answer the questions," they wrote.
The lawyers said it was no secret that Bevilacqua, who lives at the archdiocese seminary, suffers from dementia. As a legal matter, they wrote, his inability to recall events robs Lynn of his sixth amendment right to cross-examine witnesses.
"The cardinal simply has no memory of the facts and events surrounding this prosecution, and candidly, although painfully, acknowledges as much," the motion said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)