A Philadelphia judge said Friday there is enough evidence to put three Roman Catholic priests, an ex-priest and a former teacher on trial on charges of sexual abuse and conspiracy.
Defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to schedule a preliminary hearing to fight some of the charges. At the end of a dramatic courtroom hearing, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes issued a gag order for defendants and attorneys in the case.
Defense attorneys and the judge erupted into shouts several times during the hearing in a packed courtroom in downtown Philadelphia. At one point, attorney Michael McGovern yelled the proceedings were “patently unfair!” Cardwell Hughes ordered him to “Sit!” She later told him to “shut up”.
The case is drawing attention because prosecutors for the first time charged a church official with child endangerment for allegedly transferring problem priests to new parishes. Monsignor William Lynn faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted.
Also held for trial are the Rev. James Brennan and the Rev. Charles Englehardt, as well as a defrocked priest, Edward Avery, and Bernard Shero, a former parochial school teacher.
Victim advocate Robert Hoatson, a priest who is on administrative leave, was one of dozens of observers in the courtroom.
“To me it sounded like desperate defense attorneys trying to defend desperate men, who either committed sexual abuse against children or are trying to cover it up,” he said.
Hoatson said he himself was abused by priests as a child. Now he counsels abuse victims.
Later in the hearing, defense attorney Richard DiSipio pointed toward the prosecution table and accused prosecutors of being anti-Catholic. Prosecutors told the judge that DiSipio himself could become a witness in the case because he was once studied to become a priest at St. Charles Seminary. They said DiSipio may have known a potential witness in the case, and could be called on to testify.
DiSipio took offense. He shouted back that he is proud to be Catholic, attends church each Sunday, and received ashes on Ash Wednesday. He then turned to priests in the overflowing gallery and apologized for not going to confession.
Cardwell Hughes told DiSipio to “Shut up!” If he continued to speak, she told him she would order a sheriff to lock him up.
She then issued a gag order–forbidding any communication “tweets, Facebook, IM’s or appearances on MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.”
The judge referred to an appearance of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth William on Matthews’ show for a segment about the abuse scandal in the Archdiocese. Also, accused priest Brennan and his attorney DiSipio spoke about the case on a local radio talk show.
All five are scheduled to be arraigned April 15.