More Time Needed to Probe Bevilacqua's Death, Medical Examiner Says

By Jeremy Roebuck
Philadelphia Inquirer
February 29, 2012

More time is needed to determine what killed Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua last month, the Montgomery County Coroner's Office said Tuesday.

Toxicology test results expected this week are meant to determine if Bevilacqua had high or unexplained amounts of prescription medication or other chemicals in his blood when he died Jan. 31.

But definitive results have been delayed by complications from his embalming, Coroner Walter I. Hofman said.

Hofman said Tuesday he expected to know more in two to three weeks.

"This is a complicated process," he said. "The body was already embalmed, so it skews the toxicology results."

This month, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman acknowledged that she asked Hofman to examine Bevilacqua's body to "make sure that nothing happened that was inappropriate." She was careful to say she had no reason to suspect foul play, only suggesting that the timing of the death was "peculiar."

Bevilacqua died one day after a Philadelphia judge ruled that he could be called to testify at the child sex abuse and endangerment trial of three current and former priests.

His health had declined since his 2003 retirement as the leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Lawyers and church officials had maintained that he suffered from cancer, dementia, and other ailments.

Hoffman said this month that during an initial review he saw no marks or other external evidence on Bevilacqua's body to suggest an unnatural death but that he wanted to make sure prescription medication in Bevilacqua's system matched dosages recommended by his doctors.

"Right now, I'm taking in what I know was prescribed by his physician, what was dispensed by the drug store, what was found on the scene, and what was found in his body," Hofman said Tuesday.

Jury selection began last week for one of Bevilacqua's top aides, Msgr. William J. Lynn, who faces trial in Common Pleas Court on child endangerment charges. He has denied allegations that he recommended sexually abusive priests for assignments that gave them access to minors.

Bevilacqua was not charged in the case but emerged as a central witness. Despite Bevilacqua's death, his testimony from a videotaped deposition taken in November is expected to play a role at Lynn's trial.



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