The death of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua on Tuesday will have a minimal impact on the upcoming cases of three priests accused of sexual abuse, according to those close to the case.
Bevilacqua’s death came one day after a court reaffirmed an earlier decision that he was fit to testify. The charges came to light after a scathing 2005 grand jury report named the three offenders, along with 60 others, and harshly rebuked Bevilacqua for allowing them to continue practicing despite having knowledge of the abuse.
Defense lawyer Chuck Peruto Jr., who previously represented one of the three priests charged, said Bevilacqua’s absence will be helpful to the prosecution, if it has any effect at all. “The cardinal already went through his direct and cross examination and either party is privy to that testimony and can read it to the jury,” he said.
“It probably benefits the Commonwealth because the jury doesn’t get flavor of how senile he is, how mentally incapacitated he may be, how frail he is, if he might not look credible – all these things. The jury won’t even get to view him, [they will] just hear the hard, cold evidence.”
But victims said that, regardless of the legal implications, Bevilacqua’s lack of testimony will leave open wounds. “For victims, I think it was important for him to come to court and tell what he knew,” said Barbara Dorris of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests. “It’s very healing for people for him to be accountable and have the truth come out. The hearing is for them.”
“We need to understand how this happened, what systems were in place and how these children got hurt to avoid it happening again.”
The Vatican emphasized Bevilacqua’s social services contributions, while alleged abuse survivors braced themselves for what they say will be a traumatizing memorial.
“We are reaching out to victims and letting them know that we know how difficult this time is going to be for them, watching press coverage of his funeral and all these praises of him,” said Karen Polesir of SNAP.
“I join you in commending the late cardinal’s soul to God,” said Pope Benedict XVI in a telegram to Archbishop Charles Chaput. “With gratitude for … his longstanding commitment to social justice and the pastoral care of immigrants, and his expert contribution to the revision of the church’s law.”
Cardinal dead at age 88
A statement from the diocese called his 1998 pastoral letter condemning racism, “Healing Through Faith and Truth,” penned when racial tensions were flaring in city neighborhoods, one of the most important documents written during his tenure.
Bevilacqua was one of 11 children born to a poor Italian immigrant family in Brooklyn, so he had a lifelong personal mission to fight for the rights of the needy.
He established the diocese’s first Catholic Migration and Refugee Office in Brooklyn in 1971.
He served as Philadelphia Archbishop for 15 years, from February 11, 1988, to October 7, 2003, and became a cardinal on June 28, 1991.
He had advanced degrees in political science and canonical and civil law.
Bevilacqua created a community development office to aid blighted neighborhoods in his last year of office. The archdiocese also began a $41 million human-services construction program consisting of seven projects, including the Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center in Kensington.