Prosecutors in the child sex-abuse and endangerment trial of three Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests say defense lawyers "distorted" a judge's remarks last week in a misguided bid to oust her from the case.

In a motion Monday, the assistant district attorneys disputed that Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina forfeited her impartiality when she said anyone who doubted there was "widespread" child abuse in the Catholic church "is living on another planet."

Lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn asked Sarmina to step down, citing her remark as proof she "harbors a firm predisposed opinion" against the church.

But Assistant District Attorneys Mariana Sorensen and Patrick Blessington said the lawyers, Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy, misrepresented the judge's comments.

"The court merely stated the obvious - that the problem of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church had been worldwide," they wrote.

According to prosecutors, the remark came amid an "informal" and at times "collegial" conference with attorneys last month to refine questions that may be used on a jury questionnaire.

Bergstrom and Lindy wanted to ask jurors if they believed child sex abuse in the church had been widespread. Sarmina struck the proposed question as overly broad.

"The question is: Notwithstanding that there may be all of these allegations of widespread sexual abuse, are you able to sit here and give these individuals a fair trial? That is what it's about," the judge told Lindy, according to the district attorneys' motion.

Prosecutors also said Bergstrom and Lindy misquoted the judge, contending that she said abuse within the church "was widespread," not "is widespread." They said the misquote was perpetuated by critics of the judge, in an Inquirer story, and by readers who posted comments at

Sarmina declined to discuss the issue last week, citing judicial rules of conduct. She is expected to address it during a pretrial hearing Wednesday.

Lynn has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and endangerment charges. Prosecutors say he recommended the Rev. James J. Brennan and a former priest, Edward Avery, for assignments in the 1990s despite knowing or suspecting they would sexually abuse children. Both are accused of molesting a boy in separate incidents, but they have denied the charges.