Coroner: Bevilacqua Died of Natural Causes

No signs of trauma to or unexpected medications found in Cardinal's body

Thursday, Mar 8, 2012  |  Updated 5:47 PM EDT
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Montgomery County coroner Walter Hofman, announced Thursday that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died from natural causes. The former leader of the Philadelphia Archdiocese died Jan. 31. Archdiocese spokesperson Donna Ferrell said, they hope the toxicology results put the speculations to an end. NBC10's Terry Ruggles reports the story.

NBC10 Philadelphia - Terry Ruggles

Montgomery County coroner Walter Hofman, announced Thursday that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died from natural causes. The former leader of the Philadelphia Archdiocese died Jan. 31. Archdiocese spokesperson Donna Ferrell said, they hope the toxicology results put the speculations to an end. NBC10's Terry Ruggles reports the story.

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Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died of natural causes. That's the finding Montgomery County coroner Walter Hofman released at a press conference Thursday about the inquiry into the Cardinal's death.

The former leader of the Philadelphia Archdiocese died Jan. 31 at a suburban seminary.

Officials say the 88-year-old Bevilacqua, who served as archbishop from 1988 to 2003, was suffering from dementia and prostate cancer. Hofman confirmed these details Thursday.

The official cause of death was heart disease with prostate cancer contributing to the decline.

There were no signs of trauma or choking to Bevilacqua's body and the Cardinal was under "excellent medical care" before his death, Hofman, a board certified forensic pathologist, said.

Hofman says Bevilacqua was already embalmed when his body was examined.

Toxicology results also showed no signs of any wrongdoing in the Cardinal's death, Hofman said.

Prosecutors asked the coroner to investigate due to the timing of the death, a day after a judge ruled Bevilacqua competent to testify at the trial of his longtime aide.

"It is my opinion that there is no relationship between the judge's competency ruling and his eminence's subsequent sudden death," Hofman said. "Elderly people with pre-existent natural disease often die quite suddenly."

Church officials and attorneys previously had said Bevilacqua, who served as archbishop from 1988 to 2003, was suffering from dementia and cancer.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell said Thursday that the cause of death was exactly what the church had expected all along.

“With this news, we hope that the speculation surrounding the cardinal's death will be laid to rest,” Farrell said, adding that Hofman notified the diocese of his ruling before the news conference.

In a grand jury report on the case last year, prosecutors accused Bevilacqua of presiding over the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. But he was not charged with a crime.

A message left on Thursday for Ferman, the Montgomery County prosecutor, was not immediately returned.

Hofman also said he had received hate mail for the investigation, noting that some people erroneously believed he had “removed (Bevilacqua) from the crypt.”

Bevilacqua's body was initially released to a funeral home the night he died, Hofman said, but the next morning prosecutors requested he investigate the death further. Hofman said he then requested that the body be taken back to his office in Norristown for further examination.

“The district attorney felt that because of the proximity of the judge's ruling in Philadelphia with his eminence's death, we should take a look,” Hofman said.

A day before Bevilacqua died, a judge ruled that he was competent and that his recent deposition testimony could be used at Lynn's trial. Lynn's lawyers stressed Lynn took his marching orders from Bevilacqua, who was never charged despite two grand jury reports that blasted the cardinal's leadership and his 10 grand jury appearances. Lynn has maintained he's innocent.


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