Cardinal Bevilacqua Did Not Get Off Easy
I first met Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua when he walked into the NBC 10 studios as a guest on Live @ Issue, the Sunday morning news interview show I started. He was alone, no PR person, no entourage. The Cardinal was both physically and mentally fit. For a half hour he defended Catholicism, attacked then Mayor Rendell for his refusal to support school vouchers, and ended the show with a blessing for Philadelphia. He was charismatic, combative and impressive. I liked him.
This was before the Philadelphia Archdiocese sex-abuse scandal was exposed. Everything the Cardinal fought for in that interview was undone. The Catholic schools that he loved so much would start to wither and close as families started to question their faith. Bevilacqua himself started to wither and fade. When he died in his sleep Tuesday night it was the final resignation of a mind and body that had stopped working years ago.
The last time Cardinal Bevilacqua showed his combative intelligence was in front of a Philadelphia grand jury. He appeared 10 times in 2003 and 2004 and showed much of the same righteous indignation and defense of the Church that I had experienced five years earlier. Only this time, the Cardinal was trying to defend the indefensible: the sexual abuse of children by 63 priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Bevilacqua was condemned in the grand jury report, but never charged. Some will argue that he got off easy. He did not. It was a death sentence with no appeal. The Cardinal became a recluse after his grand jury testimony, self-imprisoned by his own shame until the final sentence was carried out Tuesday night.
He died just hours after his longtime friend and aid, Monsignor William Lynn, appeared in court for a pretrial hearing. The 61-year-old monsignor is the first U.S. church official ever charged with child endangerment for allegedly shuffling problem priests from job to job. Philadelphia prosecutors say the church thereby fed predators a steady stream of children. Defense attorneys call Lynn a scapegoat for the Cardinal.
We will see and hear from Bevilacqua again. His feisty videotaped testimony will be played at trial. The trial in March comes at a time when the Archdiocese is in decline. It announced the closings of 48 schools just last month. It is a decline that started with Cardinal Bevilacqua and will continue until after his death because of his actions.
The Catholic faith teaches us that the judgments of men are unimportant. The final judgment of God is all that matters. We are taught that God is all-just, all-knowing and all-forgiving. There are no scapegoats before God. Hours after Monsignor Lynn stood before a judge, our faith teaches us that the Cardinal stood before his Maker. The confession he refused to make to men, he will need to make to God to save his soul.