Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua has been ordered to appear at a Sept. 12 hearing so a judge can determine if he is competent to testify in the conspiracy and child-endangerment trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn.

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina on Friday also set March 26 as the start of the landmark trial, which prosecutors said could last four months.

Lawyers for the 88-year-old former archbishop have said he suffers from prostate cancer and dementia and is not fit to give testimony.

Sarmina told them at Friday's hearing that she would decide Bevilacqua's fitness only after seeing him in person. She instructed them to "take the necessary medical steps" to bring the cardinal into court, and to provide his medical records from the last two years.

Lynn, 60, had served as Bevilacqua's secretary for clergy for nearly 12 years, during which time he recommended priests' assignments. He is charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children in connection with the alleged sexual assaults of two boys by three priests in 1990s. Those men will be tried with him.

The monsignor is the highest-ranking member of a Roman Catholic diocese nationwide to stand trial for crimes related to clergy sex abuse.

In a court filing on Monday, prosecutors asked Sarmina for permission to depose Bevilacqua in advance of the trial, in order to enter into the record the voluminous testimony he gave to a Philadelphia grand jury investigating clergy sex abuse eight years ago. A witness's grand-jury testimony is not admissible evidence unless defense attorneys have an opportunity to cross-examine.

Prosecutors allege that Lynn regularly conspired with priests to conceal the sex-abuse allegations against them, and often recommended to Bevilacqua that he assign problem priests to parishes where they sometimes abused again.

In a transcript of Bevilacqua's grand-jury testimony recently obtained by The Inquirer, the cardinal repeatedly said he trusted the advice of his staff - especially Lynn - when it came to priest assignments.

In February, a second grand jury report on clergy sex abuse in the archdiocese recommended the current charges against Lynn. The panel said that it would have sought similar charges against Bevilacqua, who led the 1.5-million-member archdiocese from 1988 to 2003, but that his doctor and lawyers had asserted he was in very poor health.

Last year, Bevilacqua's lawyer, William Sasso, had discouraged the grand jury from calling his client to testify, saying he required "24-7 nursing care" and rarely left St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, where he lives.

Sasso also testified that he had not seen Bevilacqua at a public function in three years and that the cardinal sometimes failed to recognize him.

Prosecutors might challenge Sasso on that testimony at the cardinal's competency hearing. Photographs published in a La Salle University newsletter show that in February 2009, Bevilacqua attended an award ceremony at the school for a friend, real estate developer Elmer "Bud" Hansen. The cardinal was smiling, standing for photographs, and giving blessings.

The pictures also show Sasso at the event.

Almost a year later, on Jan. 10, 2010, Bevilacqua walked in procession up the center aisle of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul at a Mass for newly made monsignors.

Reached Friday, Sasso said in an e-mail that his testimony before the grand jury had been his "best recollection" that he had not seen Bevilacqua at social events in a long time. "With your reminder, I did recall seeing him at Bud [Hansen's] event," he wrote. "What is relevant is not that he was there, but the fact that he was obviously in poor health."

After stepping down as clergy secretary in 2004, Lynn served as pastor of St. Joseph's parish in Downingtown until his arrest this February.

Standing trial with him will be the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and defrocked priest Edward Avery. They are charged with sodomizing a 10-year-old boy in 1998 and 1999, when he was an altar boy at St. Jerome's parish in Northeast Philadelphia. The Rev. James Brennan - in the process of being defrocked - is charged with raping a 14-year-old boy while he was sleeping at the priest's Chester County apartment in 1996.

Bernard Shero, a teacher at St. Jerome's parish school, is charged with sodomizing and raping the first boy. Shero's attorney is seeking a separate trial on grounds that Lynn played no role in his hiring.

All the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Lynn is not charged with improper conduct with a minor or with plotting the abuse of minors.

His lawyers, Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy, are seeking to have the conspiracy and child-endangerment charges against him thrown out, on grounds that Pennsylvania's child-endangerment statute did not apply to employers or supervisors of child molesters when he was clergy secretary.

This week they filed a motion asking Sarmina to ask the Superior Court to certify in advance of trial that Lynn can be charged with child endangerment.

On July 29, Common Pleas Judge Lillian Ransom, who previously handled the case, turned down a similar certification request.

The Philadelphia archdiocese is paying for Lynn's legal representation, but not those of his codefendants.