Cardinal Bevilacqua Remembered for Accomplishments, Accusations

The Newsworks
February 1, 2012

U.S. Cardinal and former Archbishop of Philadelphia Anthony Bevilacqua celebrates Mass inside St. Domenic's church in Siena, Italy, Friday, Oct. 17, 2003. (Luca Lozzi/Muzzi/AP Photo)

Retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua served as head of the Philadelphia archdiocese for more than 15 years, retiring in 2003.

He was an active and visible leader of the region's 1.5 million Catholics, taking on the tough task of closing dozens of shrinking parishes and parochial schools.

Bevilacqua also campaigned hard for the canonization of Mother Katharine Drexel. Those efforts were rewarded when Pope John Paul II recognized her as a saint in 2000.

He was known as a social conservative who had traditional views on contraception, abortion and gay rights. The cardinal later took on the thankless task of closing parishes and schools that were underused in the diocese. Though he was active in visiting parishes and spoke out on the need to help the poor, National Catholic reporter Michael Winters says Bevilacqua will be remembered mostly for the child sex-abuse scandal that engulfed the church.

"Whatever he was able to accomplish in Philadelphia is going to be completely tainted by his role in covering up the pedophilia that existed on his watch," Winters said.

In 2005 a grand jury harshly criticized but did not charge Bevilacqua with protecting pedophiles in the church. He was recently ruled competent to testify in the forthcoming trial of one of his close aides, Monsignor William Lynn.

Lynn is the first Catholic church official in the country to be prosecuted for failing to prevent abuse by others.

One unanswered legal question in the case could further define Bevilacqua’s legacy.

Last fall, Bevilacqua was questioned and cross-examined in a sealed hearing, and prosecutors want to introduce his video testimony at trial.

Guy Sciolla, a defense attorney and former homicide prosecutor, said in a telephone interview such testimony can be admitted if both sides were present for the deposition, if the issues were clearly framed, and if both sides were able examine and cross-examine.

In addition, Sciolla said, it had to be "done before the appropriate authority who was in a position to rule on all pertinent and relevant objections."

Sciolla said he thinks the parties in the case were aware of Bevilacqua's failing health, and were careful to meet those conditions.

"In this case, I would think that the presiding judge, who it's my understanding was there are at the time of the deposition, would definitely permit the depositional testimony to be admitted in the case," Sciolla said.

If that happens, the jury and reporters covering the trial will see Bevilacqua’s video testimony, adding another troubling chapter to the story of the late cardinal.








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