Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua was so bewildered when prosecutors questioned him last month that he couldn't recognize a longtime aide and struggled "to the point of tears" to recall how the Archdiocese of Philadelphia handled child sex-abuse allegations, a new court filing says.

In the motion filed Thursday, lawyers for the aide, Msgr. William Lynn, argue that Bevilacqua's replies and demeanor prove he was unfit to testify and that his testimony should not be introduced at Lynn's trial on endangerment and conspiracy charges.

The motion from lawyers Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy offered the first public glimpse of the historic but private hearing, when attorneys grilled the 88-year-old prelate over two days.

Their motion doesn't quote the cardinal; the filing says the lawyers were not given transcripts. Still they cast Bevilacqua, who led the Archdiocese for 15 years, with an indelible image: as a sad, forgetful old man.

According to the motion, Bevilacqua couldn't recall testifying eight years ago before a Philadelphia grand jury examining clergy sex abuse.

He also allegedly professed to have "had no idea" that St. John Vianney was a church-owned hospital in Downingtown where for years the archdiocese, with his approval, sent dozens of sexually abusive priests for treatment.

The cardinal also said he didn't recognize Lynn, his secretary for clergy for 12 years, even as the monsignor stood before him at the hearing, according to the motion filed in Common Pleas Court.

"There were times during the deposition he appeared to struggle, to the point of tears, at his inability to recall and effectively answer the questions," the lawyers wrote. "For the most part, his memory bank was an empty room."

Prosecutors had hoped to introduce Bevilacqua's testimony at the March trial for Lynn and three other current and former priests.

Lynn, who as secretary for clergy oversaw placement and disciplinary actions for diocesan priests, is accused of recommending two of the priests for parish assignments in the 1990s despite knowing about previous accusations or suspicions that they molested children. Prosecutors say those men, the Revs. James J. Brennan and Edward V. Avery, sexually abused boys after getting those assignments.

The other defendants, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former schoolteacher Bernard Shero, face charges of raping the same altar boy in the late 1990s.

All have pleaded not guilty. Lynn's lawyers have contended that only the cardinal had the authority to assign or place priests, and that prosecutors are trying to make Lynn pay for the failings of the church in its response to clergy sex-abuse.

He was the first ranking church official in the country to be charged with covering up child-sex abuse.

Prosecutors wanted Bevilacqua's testimony to bolster their argument that Lynn's conduct was part of a broader pattern or practice by church leaders of sheltering or transferring abusive priests or not responding to complaints.

The cardinal's lawyers had fought against the deposition, arguing that dementia, cancer and other ailments made him unfit to testify. After questioning the prelate, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled Bevilacqua competent.

But, rejecting a request from the district attorneys for an open hearing, she let him testify privately at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, where he has lived since retiring in 2003.

For seven hours over two days late last month, the judge, Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho and Bergstrom questioned the cardinal. Sarmina sealed the transcript and has barred lawyers and their clients from discussing the case.

Lynn's attorneys want the judge to reconsider her competency finding and preclude prosecutors from introducing Bevilacqua's current and past testimony. The defense lawyers argue that Bevilacqua's flawed memory effectively prevents them from cross-examining him.

"The cardinal simply has no memory of the facts and events surrounding this prosecution, and candidly, although painfully, acknowledges as much," Bergstrom and Lindy wrote.

Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams, said the office would have no comment on the new filing, citing the judge's gag order.

Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 215-854-4774, at jmartin@phillynews.com, or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.