March 14, 2011 / 9:23 PM / in 8 years

Accused in Philadelphia church scandal appear in court

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Catholic monsignor, two priests and others named in the sexual abuse scandal rocking the Archdiocese of Philadelphia appeared in court on Monday, where their defense tried unsuccessfully to have the presiding judge removed from the case.

Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes should recuse herself because she oversaw the grand jury that investigated the case and recommended criminal charges be brought, attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. argued at the preliminary hearing in Philadelphia.

The grand jury released a report last month that harshly criticized the church’s handling of complaints by alleged victims of pedophile priests.

The scandal has rocked the Archdiocese, the sixth largest in the United States with 1.5 million Catholics.

Hughes declined to recuse herself and disputed the defense attorney’s claim she could not hear the case after overseeing the grand jury, which released its 124-page findings in early February.

“The reason I don’t recuse myself is because I am the one who has read every single word,” the judge said.

As a result of the grand jury’s report on what it called “sordid, shocking acts,” Monsignor William Lynn, 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.

All five were in court for Monday’s preliminary hearing.

The grand jury said Lynn, the highest ranking church official among the defendants, “purposefully” abdicated his responsibility to keep priests accused of sexual misdeeds away from children.

“He did so ... as part of a knowing practice — continued over decades — of placing sexual predators in positions where they would have easy access to trusting minors, just as long as the Archdiocese was spared public exposure or costly lawsuits,” it said.

The next hearing was scheduled for March 25.

Reporting by Dave Warner; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton

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