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  Pope Names New Philadelphia Archbishop

By Victor L. Simpson
The Associated Press, carried in PennLive.com [Vatican]
July 15, 2003

VATICAN CITY (AP) Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation Tuesday of Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua's for age reasons, appointing the St. Louis archbishop to replace him.

Bevilacqua, who had turned 80 in June, led the Philadelphia archdiocese since 1988. He was the oldest cardinal in the United States to head a diocese.

He will be replaced by St. Louis Archbishop Justin F. Rigali, who had worked at the Vatican under Pope John Paul II, has been serving in St. Louis since 1994.

Rigali, 68, was born in Los Angeles. He held a number of Vatican positions, as well as working in its diplomatic corps and heading the Vatican diplomatic academy.

Philadelphia is the seventh-largest diocese in the United States, with some 1.5 million Catholics. Rumors had circulated for months that the pope planned to name Bevilacqua's successor by the end of the year. Rigali was considered the front-runner.

Rigali's appointment completes a series of recent major transfers in the U.S. Church. On July 1, the pope named Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley to lead the Boston archdiocese, succeeding Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in December amid public outrage over the sex abuse scandal.

In 2002, when the church came under fire for clerical sexual abuse, Bevilacqua called homosexuality an "aberration, a moral evil" and suggested gays were more likely to commit abuse. Under Bevilacqua, the Philadelphia archdiocese tried to weed out gay candidates to the priesthood and expelled any seminarian found to be an active homosexual a zero-tolerance policy experts called relatively rare.

Heeding the pope's call for a "new evangelization," Bevilacqua used novel methods such as a toll-free confession line to attract lapsed Catholics.

He was the first cardinal to host a live weekly radio call-in program. Other initiatives included a Web site that allowed people to e-mail questions to priests and door-to-door visits to parish homes.

As church rules required, Bevilacqua submitted his retirement to the pope when he turned 75 in 1998. But the pope did not accept it, and the cardinal kept up 16-hour days into his late 70s.

Bevilacqua turned 80 on June 17, making him no longer eligible to participate in the vote on the next pope, but he retains his rank as cardinal.

The Philadelphia prelate fought for the poor and disadvantaged, once sending a letter to then President Reagan protesting a decision to exclude farm workers from federal workplace sanitation standards.

In 1986, as bishop of Pittsburgh, Bevilacqua drew harsh criticism when he prohibited women from participating in the Holy Thursday re-enactment of Jesus washing his disciples' feet. Bevilacqua said the ceremony was limited to men because the disciples were all men. However, he reversed himself in 1987, leaving the decision to individual pastors.

Rigali spent 25 years at the Vatican, accompanying John Paul on several international trips.

In March, Rigali underwent surgery that involved removal of a cancerous prostate gland, discovered during a routine exam. Later tests found no evidence that the cancer had spread.

In a March interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rigali said he wanted to purify the church of the "tremendous evil" of sex abuse.

"This must be eradicated, this must be stamped out now," he said. "The primary objective of the archdiocese is to see that children are protected and that means that first of all there is no priest with substantiated allegations of (abusing) a minor."

 
 

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