Anthony J. Bevilacqua, Retired Cardinal of Philadelphia, Dies at 88

By Douglas Martin
New York Times
February 1, 2012

Anthony J. Bevilacqua

Anthony J. Bevilacqua, a former cardinal and archbishop of Philadelphia whose passion for Roman Catholic causes like helping the poor and fighting abortion was eclipsed in retirement by accusations that he had covered up sexual abuse by priests, died on Tuesday at a seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. He was 88.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the death. Cardinal Bevilacqua had dementia and an undisclosed kind of cancer.

Cardinal Bevilacqua was archbishop from 1988 until his retirement in 2003. Pope John Paul II elevated him to cardinal in 1991.

In Philadelphia, as in previous leadership positions in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, he pushed the church to help immigrants, presided over cutbacks in Catholic parishes and schools, spoke out against homosexuality and abortion, and built up a lay ministry to compensate for the declining corps of priests.

In a statement released Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI praised Cardinal Bevilacqua’s contributions to church law after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Cardinal Bevilacqua had doctorates in canon law from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and in civil law from St. John’s University in Queens.

Cardinal Bevilacqua’s last years were caught up in investigations of priests accused of sexually abusing altar boys. In September 2005, a grand jury report on a 40-month investigation of clerical sex abuse accused him and his predecessor of allowing hundreds of abusive priests to go unpunished and ignoring the victims.

Cardinal Bevilacqua did not respond publicly to the allegations. His successor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, called the report “very unfair” for not addressing abuse in other religious denominations.

The grand jury said weak laws prevented it from recommending criminal charges. After Pennsylvania’s child endangerment laws were strengthened in 2007, another grand jury revisited the case last year and indicted a former underling, Msgr. William J. Lynn, and three priests. Its report said it had “reluctantly” chosen not to recommend charges against Cardinal Bevilacqua.

Monsignor Lynn is the first church official charged with administrative failings in the priest abuse crisis. He is accused of having transferred deviant priests to unsuspecting parishes.

The case is expected to go to trial in March. On Monday, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina of Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia ruled that Cardinal Bevilacqua was legally competent to testify in the trial. Monsignor Lynn’s lawyer had asked that the cardinal be excused from testifying because of his dementia.

Anthony Joseph Bevilacqua was born in Brooklyn on June 17, 1923, the 9th of 11 children of Italian immigrants. His father opened a hair-dyeing shop and a shoeshine shop in Queens.

Anthony entered Cathedral College, then in Brooklyn and now in Queens, and went on to the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, N.Y.. He was ordained in 1949 and served parishes in Brooklyn and taught high school. He earned his canon law doctorate in 1956 with summa cum laude honors. In 1962, he earned a master’s degree in political science from Columbia.

In 1971, Cardinal Bevilacqua started a diocesan office to help immigrants and refugees. To better serve their needs, he went to St. John’s to study law, earning his degree in 1975. He was later a legal adviser to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He was made a monsignor in 1976; auxiliary bishop of the Brooklyn Diocese in 1980; bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese in 1983; and, in 1987, bishop of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the nation’s sixth largest, where he succeeded Cardinal John Krol. He was elevated to Cardinal Krol’s rank of archbishop in 1988.

As archbishop, he was criticized for closing 20 parishes, 6 high schools and 28 elementary schools because of financial pressures. The Daily Catholic in 1999 called him “one of the most ardent pro-life prelates.” He decried what he saw as the liberal drift of Catholic universities.

His declaration that homosexuals, even ones who accept celibacy, cannot be priests enraged gay-rights advocates. He said a heterosexual gives up “a very good thing,” a wife and children, to be a priest. A homosexual, by contrast, he said, gives up “what the church considers an aberration, a moral evil.”

The accusations about his role in the sex-abuse scandals did not surface until two years after his retirement, after he testified 10 times before the first grand jury. Its report concluded that he had not taken an accusation against a priest seriously unless the priest expressly confessed. “He tried to hide all he knew about sex abuse committed by his priests,” the report said.

Information on his survivors was not immediately available. Cardinal Bevilacqua loved to visit parishes, and would sometimes playfully throw his ecclesiastical cap into a crowd. In a collection of quotes by leaders of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, he once remarked on how healthy he felt. “Whether it is the grace of God or spaghetti and meatballs, I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe both.”








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.