DA: Cardinal's death in Pa. probed amid odd timing

PATRICK WALTERS Associated Press Published:

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) -- A suburban Philadelphia prosecutor said Friday she suggested that the coroner's office investigate the recent death of a Roman Catholic cardinal because of what she called "odd" timing, saying she wanted to put to rest any speculation since he died a day after a judge had found him competent to testify at the child-endangerment trial of his longtime aide.

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died on Jan. 31 at age 88. Bevilacqua was suffering from dementia and cancer, according to church officials.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said Friday she learned about the death on the news and was surprised that her office hadn't been notified, given that he died a seminary in her county.

"It struck many of us as odd, as peculiar," she said at a news conference. She said she suggested that the coroner conduct the investigation "so we could hopefully put to bed any rumors and speculation."

Asked whether the review would look into the possibility of suicide or euthanasia, she declined to comment.

County Coroner Walter Hofman said he was conducting toxicology tests on fluid and tissues from Bevilacqua's body.

Hofman said prosecutors contacted him after Bevilacqua died at a Wynnewood seminary. Among the things he is testing for, he said, is to make sure that all the cardinal's medications were in his system and that "there was nothing of an unusual nature."

"The most likely cause of death is death due to natural causes," Hoffman said in an interview with The Associated Press, adding that he hopes to issues a cause of death by the end of the month. "Those illnesses were very well documented by his private physician."

Before he died, a Philadelphia judge ruled Bevilacqua competent to testify at the child endangerment trial of Monsignor William Lynn.

Hofman said he was involved with the cardinal's death from soon after he died, and that his office conducted the examination at the DA's request. He declined to speculate on what other possibilities, other than natural causes, could have led to the death.

Donna Farrell, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said that someone from the coroner's office was present the night the cardinal died. "At that time, (they) released the body to the funeral home," Farrell said.

His nurse was just outside door when he died, she said.

"It is our understanding that someone who is a public figure -- and certain Cardinal Bevilacqua was a public figure -- that it's not out of the question that tests would be done just so that the record is completely clear," she said. "We understand that law enforcement and civil agencies have their role and responsibilities. We do hope that this can be concluded quickly."

Lynn, 61, is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy for allegedly shuffling priests suspected of sexually abusing children to unwitting parishes while he served as secretary of clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. Now on leave, Lynn is the first U.S. church official ever charged over accusations of administrative failings in the priest sex-abuse crisis. He has denied the allegations.

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Associated Press writer Matt Moore contributed to this story.