By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A judge presiding over a Catholic church sex abuse trial refused on Wednesday to step down from the case following complaints from defense lawyers that she was biased against a Monsignor accused of aiding abusers.
Calling herself fair and impartial, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina denied the request by defense lawyers for Monsignor William Lynn that she relinquish her position.
The lawyers, in a petition filed last week, quoted Sarmina had said in an earlier hearing that "anybody that doesn't think there is widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is living on another planet" and the statement showed a bias against their client.
Sarmina briskly read her decision from the bench on Wednesday, saying she would stay put and oversee the child endangerment trial of Lynn, 61, the former secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Catholic archdiocese and the highest ranking cleric charged in the case. Jury selection is scheduled to begin February 21.
Lynn's is charged along with two priests, a former priest, and a former archdiocese school teacher, who are accused of sexually abusing children between 1996 and 1999.
"Other than the statement that has been distorted and taken out of context, the defense has not and cannot identify a single instance during these lengthy proceedings where I have been other than balanced, fair and impartial," the judge said.
(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)