Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua Dies: Potential Witness in Philly Sex Abuse Trial

By Anthea Butler
Religion Dispatches
February 1, 2012

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died last night at the age of 88, just one day after being approved as legally competent to testify in the upcoming sex abuse trial of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

The trial of Monsignor William Lynn is expected to commence at the end of March 2012, and the case promises to be an explosive one. Prosecutors and the Philadelphia DA want to set a precedent for showing how the archdiocese instructed Monsignor Lynn to move priests from church to church in the hopes that the sexual abuse of children that had been committed in the archdiocese would not be discovered.

The Cardinal, whom church officials said suffered from dementia, was deposed for the upcoming trial in November of 2011. Monsignor Lynn worked under Bevilacqua, and would have taken his orders from the Cardinal concerning abusive priests.

Philadelphia is Ground Zero in the Catholic sex abuse scandal, as this is the first time that a church administrator is being put on trial for “aiding and abetting” priests who had abused children, male and female alike. If he is convicted, this may open the floodgates for prosecution of other perpetrators— bishops, cardinals, and others responsible for moving sexual abusers to different churches to avoid detection and prosecution.

And if you don’t believe men of the cloth can be that cunning, read Bevilacqua’s earlier testimony from the first grand jury in 2003-2004. It is stunning—a tour de force of obfuscation and strategic responses. Bevilacqua’s canon law training served him well in attempting to push off the prosecutors trying to get to the bottom of the sex abuse scandal back in 2003.

The Cardinal’s death will do nothing to calm the controversy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. In fact, the perfect storm of Catholic School closings, trials, embezzlement and funerals in Philadelphia seems straight out of The Sopranos or The Godfather— the Catholic Church's version of a crime novel that has no clear ending. The Cardinal's death is just another strange turn in a once mighty Archdiocese that is crumbling before the eyes of its constituency.

When I was interviewed last week by a local news outlet about the case, I received several letters chastising me for coming against the church. As I have said before, my conscience as a Catholic will not allow me to ignore the perfidy of the past regarding the treatment of children in the Catholic Church. The hierarchy had/has a responsibility to parishioners, and they have failed.

Philadelphia Cardinals Bevilacqua, Krol and Rigali, “Princes of the church,” shoulder the blame for the continued rape of children by following church policies that circumvented the laws of the state and the Federal government. They are responsible for the destruction of the community and the finances of one of the most faithful and persevering Catholic communities in the United States. I actually feel some compassion for Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput, who has been left with a cesspool to clean up. I don’t agree with the Archbishop on many issues, but I wish him the best in cleaning up the mess his predecessors left behind.








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