(EWTN) Pope Benedict XVI has offered his condolences to Philadelphia Catholics following the loss of their former archbishop Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, who died on the evening of Jan. 31 at the age of 88.
In a telegram to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, the Pope said he joined the faithful of the archdiocese “in commending the late cardinal's soul to God, the Father of mercies, with gratitude for his years of episcopal ministry among Christ's flock in Philadelphia.”
Cardinal Bevilacqua, who led the archdiocese from 1988 to 2003, died in his sleep at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. He was suffering from cancer and dementia at the time of his death.
Pope Benedict conveyed his blessing to the faithful of Philadelphia, as he recalled the late cardinal's “longstanding commitment to social justice and the pastoral care of immigrants” as well as his “expert contribution” to the revision of canon law after the Second Vatican Council.
Archbishop Chaput said on Feb. 1 that he was “greatly saddened” by the death of his predecessor, “a servant of the Lord who loved Jesus Christ and his people.”
“Cardinal Bevilacqua has been called home by God,” he said. “I encourage all Catholics in the archdiocese to join me in praying for the repose of his soul, and that God will comfort his family as they mourn his loss.”
Archbishop Chaput acknowledged that Cardinal Bevilacqua's death came a time of “extraordinary challenges” for the local Church.
On Jan. 30, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina had declared that the cardinal was competent to testify in the trial of his former assistant Monsignor William Lynn. The monsignor is accused of failing to prevent child abuse that took place while he served as secretary of the clergy.
The ruling came despite the cardinal's inability to recognize or identify Msgr. Lynn, whose lawyer said attorneys would have “no hope to be able to cross-examine Cardinal Bevilacqua” due to his memory loss.
Sarmina said the cardinal was competent, and could be reevaluated if called to testify. Cardinal Bevilacqua, however, died the following day.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on June 17, 1923, the future cardinal was one of Luigi and Maria Bevilacqua's 11 children. Ordained a priest in 1949, he earned degrees in canon law, political science, and civil law before becoming a bishop in 1980. He joined the College of Cardinals in 1991.
Under his leadership, the Philadelphia Archdiocese reached out to non-practicing Catholics with its “Catholic Faith and Life 2000” initiative. Cardinal Bevilacqua was known for his stands against racism, his frequent pastoral visits in Philadelphia, and his openness to the public through a radio call-in show.
In addition to his work in canon law and immigration, the cardinal served as head of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Funeral arrangements for the cardinal are pending. He is survived by his sister Madeline Langan of Bayville, N.Y. and his brother Frank Bevilacqua of West Simsbury, Conn.