Bevilacqua Dies At 88

Cardinal Bevilacqua, who retired in 2003, died in his sleep.
Cardinal Bevilacqua, who retired in 2003, died in his sleep.
Posted: February 01, 2012

CARDINAL ANTHONY Joseph Bevilacqua, 88, who led the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia for 15 turbulent years, died in his sleep last night in his residence at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, the Archdiocese confirmed early today.

Bevilacqua, who retired in 2003, had suffered from cancer and dementia in recent years. He died at 9:15 p.m., according to Donna Farrell, Archdiocese spokeswoman.

Bevilacqua, a native of Brooklyn, was appointed archbishop of Philadelphia by Pope John Paul II on Dec. 8, 1987.

As archbishop, Bevilacqua was noted for his strict devotion to the Catholic faith and his visits to the more than 300 parishes in the Archdiocese's five counties. Under his tenure, Philadelphia native Mother Katherine Drexel became a saint in 2000.

In 1995, Bevilacqua became the only cardinal in the world to host a live radio show, "Live with Cardinal Bevilacqua," which aired weekly on the city's WZZD-AM until 2000. Bevilacqua also appeared n television regularly.

The cardinal graduated summa cum laude from Rome's Gregorian University in 1956 with a doctorate in canon law. Six years later, he received a master's degree in political science from Columbia University, and in 1975 he graduated from St. John's University Law School in New York with a degree in civil law. He was qualified to practice as a civil lawyer in New York and Pennsylvania.

Although Bevilacqua submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II in 1998, the pope asked him to remain as archbishop of Philadelphia, appointing him as apostolic administrator. He continued to lead the Philadelphia Archdiocese until Cardinal Justin Rigali took over in 2003.

Before coming to Philadelphia, Bevilacqua served as bishop of Pittsburgh. In 1991, he was elevated to the cardinalate.

After five years at the helm, he took up a task that his predecessor, Cardinal John Krol, had put off: deciding the fate of many underused parishes and schools. He wound up closing 20 parishes, six high schools, and 28 elementary schools, largely in poor city neighborhoods.

Bevilacqua's tenure was marred by a clergy sex-abuse crisis that erupted in 2002 and culminated after his retirement in a 2005 grand jury report that detailed sexual abuse of minors by priests within the Archdiocese.

In November, Bevilacqua was deemed competent to stand trial and to answer questions from prosecutors about whether he had responded to allegations of child sex abuse at the hands of priests by transferring the priests in question to positions that still gave them access to children.

He was found competent despite his lawyers' arguing that he was unfit to testify because of his cancer and dementia. The trial was set to begin in March, and jury selection was set to begin in mid-February.

Bevilacqua claimed to have no memory of 10 testimonies he gave between 2003 and 2004 in response to the first of two grand jury reports that detailed alleged sex abuse in the Archdiocese.

He also reportedly nearly broke down in tears in November when he was questioned on how the archdiocese handles sex abuse allegations, and didn't recognize his own aide.

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