The Philadelphia trial judge presiding over a church sex-abuse case has refused to step aside and allow another jurist to handle the matter, ruling that her comments being used by defense attorneys in an attempt to get her to recuse herself from the case were taken out of context.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who is presiding over the forthcoming trial of Monsignor William J. Lynn, apparently the highest-ranking Catholic Church official to be criminally charged in a case relating to clergy sex-abuse, refused to step down, saying Lynn’s attorneys “took the court’s statement completely out of context,” according to a report Wednesday in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Lynn, the former secretary of clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, faces child-endangerment charges stemming from his alleged role in allowing pedophile priests to be placed in neighborhood parishes despite Lynn’s alleged knowledge of their inclination to molest children.
It has been reported that Lynn is the first church official in the nation charged in connection with an alleged cover-up relating to priest sex-abuse.
Last week, Lynn’s attorneys asked Sarmina to recuse herself following comments she made during a pretrial conference that seemed to suggest she might not be able to rule objectively in the case, according to news reports.
During voir dire, a question came up that asked prospective jurors whether they believed child sex-abuse was a big problem in the church.
Sarmina rejected the question, saying, “Anyone that doesn’t think there was widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is living on another planet,” according to the Inquirer.
Lynn’s attorneys seized on the moment, saying the comment was biased, and asking Sarmina to step down.
During a hearing Wednesday, Sarmina rejected the defense attorneys’ requests, saying the comment was simply taken out of context, the Inquirer reported.
Prosecutors sided with Sarmina, saying the judge’s comment was typical of the “informal” and “collegial” courtroom banter between jurists and attorneys – in addition to being an accurate statement, the newspaper reported.
Jury selection is set to begin in the Lynn case next week. The monsignor is scheduled to go on trial in late March on endangerment and conspiracy charges.
Lynn has also been named in civil suits stemming from the case.