Jon Campisi Mar. 26, 2012, 8:36am

One of three codefendants set to go on trial in a landmark case involving sex-abuse allegations against current and former members of the Catholic Church abruptly decided to plead guilty to charges he was facing in the case.

Edward Avery, a former parish priest with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, made his guilty plea March 22 in front of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, according to court docket information and local media reports.

The plea deal means Avery, who was accused of engaging in oral sex with a 10-year-old altar boy while working at a Northeast Philadelphia parish back in the late 1990s, will be spending the next two-and-a-half to five years in prison.

The court record shows that Avery pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with someone less than 13 years of age and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child.

The latter refers to Avery’s conspiring with church higher-ups to hide his history of sexual abuse from parishioners.

In return for his guilty plea, other charges that were originally lobbed against Avery were dropped. They had included rape of a child, aggravated indecent assault on someone under 13, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors, conspiracy and indecent assault on someone younger than 13.

Avery will serve his sentence on the two charges concurrently, court records show, and he will receive credit for time served.

Avery, 69, a defrocked priest, was initially charged alongside the Rev. James J. Brennan and Monsignor William J. Lynn.

Lynn, who was the secretary of clergy at the time Avery abused the altar boy, is being charged with covering up incidents of sex-abuse by priests and/or enabling the abuse by not doing enough to transfer priests known to have a predilection for young boys.

Lynn is the first church official in a supervisory role nationwide to be charged in connection with the priest sex-abuse scandal, news reports have stated.

Brennan is charged with having raped a young boy back in the mid 1990s.

It was not immediately clear how Avery’s guilty plea would affect the upcoming trial; all three men were set to be tried together.

Judge Sarmina has issued a gag order in the case preventing attorneys on either side from commenting to the media.

Avery was told by Sarmina to surrender on April 2. He will have to register a sex offender.

Avery’s victim has also filed a civil suit against the defrocked priest, and the attorney representing the former alter boy told the Philadelphia Inquirer Thursday that the guilty plea represented a vindication for his client.

The attorney, Slade McLaughlin, also told the newspaper that the victim, who has not been identified, was planning to testify at the upcoming trial and may still be called to do so if the trial unfolds as scheduled.

The lead prosecutor on the case is Assistant Philadelphia District Attorney Patrick Blessington.

Whether or not former Cardinal Anthony Bevilaqua was expected to testify in the case was also the subject of much debate in the early stages of the proceedings.

Bevilaqua, who led the Archdiocese of Philadelphia during the time of the abuses and alleged abuses in question, gave a closed-door deposition to attorneys and the judge late last year, after which Sarmina ruled he was competent to testify at trial.

The former cardinal had been suffering from a host of physical and mental ailments, causing some to question his ability to recall pertinent information.

But just when it appeared as though the 88-year-old’s testimony would be used in this spring’s trial, Bevilaqua unexpectedly passed away.

Medical officials ruled Bevilaqua died from natural causes.

The trial is expected to get under way this week.

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