Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Addio, Bevy -- Amid a Storm, Philadelphia Cardinal Dies at 88

He was the ultimate man of the law. How bitter the irony, then, that his days would end under a cloud of court scrutiny.

At 9.15 tonight, Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua -- Seventh Archbishop of Philadelphia, founder of the Catholic world's first diocesan ministry dedicated to the pastoral care of migrants, arguably the father of modern canon law in the United States -- died in his sleep at his apartment at the city's St Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Retired since 2003, the cardinal was 88. He had been suffering from cancer and dementia over recent years.

Born in Brooklyn to Italian immigrants who would raise ten children, the future cardinal's grit, smarts and relentless work-ethic singled him out from an early age. Known as "Tough Tony" to his seminary students and "Bevy" among friends, his sense of discipline and prominent hatred of cheese often concealed a softer side, one that led him to night school in his 50s to study for a civil law degree in order to serve the needs of a new generation of migrants.

Ordained in 1949 and named chancellor of Brooklyn in 1976, Bevilacqua became an auxiliary to Bishop Francis Mugavero in 1980, was tapped to lead the diocese of Pittsburgh three years later, and in late 1987, was introduced as the successor to John Cardinal Krol as head of the 1.5 million-member Philadelphia church.

Blessed John Paul II elevated Bevilacqua to the College of Cardinals at the consistory of 28 June 1991, conferring on him the title of St Alphonsus on Via Merulana, the mother-church of the Redemptorists. Eight years earlier, his star had been set on its trajectory after the then-auxiliary spearheaded the American implementation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, followed quickly by his successful mediation in the case of Mary Agnes Mansour, a Michigan nun who stoked the local hierarchy's protest by taking an appointment as head of a state agency. (Under the agreement, Mansour was released from her community and remained at the department's helm.)

For all the light of his seemingly omnipresent, fiercely energetic prime, significant shadows would come to envelop Bevilacqua's 15-year tenure over the decade following his retirement.

Over a five-year span, two Philadelphia grand juries would excoriate his administration's handling of allegations of clergy sex-abuse, the second of them indicting his longtime head of clergy personnel, Msgr William Lynn, whose trial on charges of conspiracy and child endangerment is scheduled to begin in March.

While neither panel would ultimately indict the cardinal, the 2011 grand jury indicated that it "reluctantly decided not to recommend charges" against him.

Saying it had "no doubt that his knowing and deliberate actions during his tenure as archbishop also endangered thousands of children in the Philadelphia archdiocese," the inquest declined an indictment in light of Bevilacqua's delicate health and "lacking" substantiation that the cardinal "was aware of all of the information that Msgr. Lynn received."

Not expected to any imminent extent, Bevilacqua's death comes a day after a city judge reaffirmed a ruling that deemed the cardinal as competent to testify at the combined trial for Lynn and three suspended or laicized clerics accused of abuse. Though he had been deposed by lawyers over two days last November in a session recorded at his seminary apartment, the bench's Monday ruling did not rule out calling Bevilacqua to testify in court.

His long-formidable physical and mental strength initially rocked by the double blow of retirement and the first grand jury -- before which he was summoned to testify a dozen times -- the famously high-profile prelate lived in isolation over his final decade, only appearing on occasion at diocesan events, and largely sealed off even from most of his longtime personal friends.

For a certain cherished few, though, the fold-up notes would still come in that inimitable flowing hand, even as it got shakier with time.

Eventually, these, too, would come to their end... and now, at the close of it all, it's hard to think of anything other than how the pain of what happened, both along the way and since, is just a tragedy all around.

* * *
According to reports, seminarians at the Overbrook house first learned of the cardinal's death by the tolling bell, summoning them to St Martin's Chapel to receive the news and for a communal recitation of the Rosary. As late reports burned up cellphones and the internet, a TV news helicopter hovered over St Charles' Faculty Wing as Bevilacqua's body was carried out and placed in a hearse, the auxiliary bishops and archdiocesan officials looking on. (Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. is currently away from the archdiocese.)

Likely to include some delicate calls given the controversies of recent years, funeral arrangements are pending. Bevilacqua had, however, chosen his burial niche in the crypt of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul at the time of his retirement. And in the meanwhile, all of six weeks since the River City church bade an affectionate farewell to its most beloved of sons, it bears noting that no American see -- or, for that matter, Catholicism writ large on these shores -- has ever witnessed the sendoffs of two cardinals in so short a space of time.

As ever, more to come.