It sounds like something out of a Dan Brown novel. Officials in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania are investigating the death of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Cardinal Bevilacqua, as you might remember, died on Jan. 31 at the age of 88 at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. He’d suffered from cancer and dementia. Reportedly, the investigation is at the request of Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman.
The District Attorney’s office did not have a comment when I called them this morning. But the likely reason for the investigation is the timing of the Cardinal’s death that came a day after Common Pleas Court Judge Teresa Sarmina ruled that Bevilacqua could be compelled to take the witness stand in the child sex abuse trial of three priests who had served in the archdiocese.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the coroner Walter Hofman conducted a postmortem examination of Bevilacqua’s body the day after he died and after it had already been embalmed.
Hofman told the Inquirer that county prosecutors “wanted to make sure there were no intervening events that could have speeded up [Bevilacqua’s] demise.”
Hofman would not comment on whether he saw signs of foul play and said it would be a few weeks before he officially declared the cause of death as toxicology screen results are still pending.
The archdiocese seems to have cooperated with the investigation allowing the Cardinal’s body to be brought to the Coroner’s office and tested before being returned to the funeral home. The archdiocese also reportedly provided Montgomery County with a list of the medications the Cardinal had taken over the previous weeks, according to reports.
This will likely seem pretty outrageous to many Catholics. The implication here is that Cardinal Bevilacqua either was killed by those who didn’t want him to testify or he killed himself in order to avoid testifying. But there’s one major problem with that theory. Cardinal Bevilacqua had already videotaped testimony in November of last year. Prosecutors hurriedly taped that testimony because they feared that he was in such poor health that he would die before the trial.
And then when he did, somehow his death is suspicious?
This could very well be a case of a district attorney dotting i’s and crossing t’s in a high profile death. I can say that when I was a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer I covered Risa Ferman, who was then an Assistant District Attorney. She was always professional, thorough, and committed to her job.