EDWARD AVERY might be gone from the defense table at the landmark clergy-sex-abuse trial involving Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests, but he remains a pivotal figure in the case.

On Monday, prosecutors and defense lawyers clashed over what jurors could and should be told about Avery, a defrocked priest who was removed as a defendant last month after his last-minute plea to charges that he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy.

Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina suggested that jurors could even hear from Avery himself.

The issue emerged as prosecutors signaled plans to call to the witness stand this week a former altar boy who said he was abused in the late 1990s by Avery and another priest, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, when both were at St. Jerome's Church in Northeast Philadelphia. Engelhardt faces a separate trial later this year because he belongs to an independent religious order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.

Avery, 69, was sentenced to 2 1/2 to five years in prison after pleading guilty to the assault and to conspiring with Monsignor William J. Lynn to endanger children. Prosecutors contend that Lynn, as the Archdiocese's secretary for clergy, knew Avery was a threat to children because Lynn had arranged his removal and transfer years earlier from a Mount Airy parish after a man, 29, said Avery molested him in the 1970s.

Lynn's lawyers maintain that Lynn took steps to remove and isolate Avery from children even as the priest repeatedly denied the only allegation against him.

Avery's guilty plea did not require him to cooperate with investigators or testify. He and his lawyer participated in jury selection, which occurred before his guilty plea, so the judge addressed his absence when the trial opened five weeks ago. She told jurors that Avery was no longer a defendant, but did not elaborate.