In a telegram to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Pope Benedict XVI likewise cited Bevilacqua's "long-standing commitment to social justice and the pastoral care of immigrants," and praised his contributions to church law.
Chaput said he was "greatly saddened" by the news of Bevilacqua's death, and called on Catholics of the archdiocese to pray "for the repose of his soul and that God will comfort his family as they mourn his loss."
Public appreciation of the cardinal's career may take some time, said John Allen, longtime columnist and Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.
"Right now, there's no doubt that the sex-abuse scandal in Philadelphia had a huge impact on shaping his legacy," said Allen. Outside Philadelphia, he said, "that's all most people heard about him."
In years to come, however, "a more balanced legacy may set in," said Allen. He described Bevilacqua as a "great canon lawyer" active in the antiabortion movement who also "did a lot of work behind the scenes in terms of legal advice and management" for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"He did public stuff when he had to," said Allen, but even his decades of work on behalf of immigrants has been eclipsed by that of the more extroverted Cardinals Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Theodore McCarrick of Washington.
At the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, about 50 people were at Wednesday's noon Mass, much of which centered on remembrances of Bevilacqua. The attendance was about usual for a weekday Mass, said Donna Farrell, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
After the service, a few parishioners wiped away tears and hurried off, many declining to comment.
Carol Tamburino, who described the basilica as her home parish, said she met Bevilacqua several times and always had the sense that she was in the presence of holiness.
"I'm sure he's in heaven," Tamburino said. "He was a great man, saintlike."
Asked how she felt about the allegations that overshadowed the last year of Bevilacqua's life in particular, Tamburino said, "I think people should talk about the positive things in life, and remember the positives in this man's life."
The Rev. Dennis Gill, the priest in residence at the basilica, said he believed many Catholics were still in shock after hearing the news.
"We knew the cardinal was in declining health, but there wasn't any indication death was near," he said. "This brings the emotions we feel at the passing of anyone we knew, even someone we may not have known well. It's unsettling."
The Rev. Thomas Reese, an authority on the Catholic hierarchy and former editor of America, a monthly magazine published by the Jesuits, agreed that on the national stage Bevilacqua was best known for the blistering accusations by two Philadelphia grand juries that he concealed and reassigned sexually abusive priests.
"But I think practically every prelate of his generation was stained by the sex-abuse crisis, including Pope John Paul II," Reese said.
"I think the problem his generation faced was a real blindness toward the terrible impact of abuse on children. There was an inability to look beyond the priest and see abuse not just as a sin and moral failing, but as a crime and an addictive compulsion that was simply not going to be changed through confession and repentance."
Bevilacqua's longtime friend Robert J. Sims described the cardinal as "a trusting person. That was part of his problem."
He said Bevilacqua felt increasingly betrayed as he discovered that sexually abusive priests could not be trusted. "He said to me one time, 'A man trained to forgive kneels by my chair and says, "I'll never do it again," and yet he does it again.' He was shocked."
Sims, a financial adviser who served on numerous archdiocesan committees, described Bevilacqua as "an introvert in a job where you can't be an introvert, and he worked hard to overcome that."
Typical of Bevilacqua's unglamorous style of leadership, he said, was his creation of a viable pension plan for priests of the archdiocese and its 10,000 current and former employees. "He was always asking me how the plans were doing," said Sims.
David Girard-diCarlo, a Philadelphia lawyer and former U.S. ambassador to Austria who for years led fund-raising efforts for archdiocesan schools, described the late cardinal as a "man of integrity" who sought to support Catholic education even as he saw the need to close 28 parish schools during his 15-year tenure here.
"Crossing paths with him," he said, was "one of the true blessings of my life."
Services set for cardinal
At 2 p.m. Tuesday, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput will celebrate a Funeral Mass for Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. It is open to the public.
The homilist will be Msgr. Louis D'Addezio, retired director of the archdiocesan office for special projects and a friend of the cardinal's.
Immediately following the Mass, Bevilacqua will be entombed in a crypt below the main altar, where the remains of the archdiocese's former bishops and archbishops lie.
The funeral will be preceded by a private viewing at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, where the cardinal lived after his 2003 retirement and died Tuesday evening.
A public viewing of his body will be held at the basilica, 18th and Race Streets, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Allison Steele contributed to this article.