Friday, May 4, 2012

Hopes Dim for Cardinal Bevilacqua's Resurrection

By Ralph Cipriano

One of the featured coming attractions of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial was the hope of seeing Cardinal Bevilacqua return from the dead to testify in a videotaped deposition.

On Nov. 29, 2011, prosecutors, defense lawyers and Judge M. Teresa Sarmina all made the trek out to the retired cardinal's residence on the grounds of the Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, so they could depose the 88-year-old Bevilacqua. The deposition went on for two days and covered at least four hours of videotape.

Ever since Bevilacqua died on Jan. 31, a day after Judge Sarmina had ruled him competent to testify as a witness, speculation has been that the prosecution would use the videotape at trial. But in court this week, Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho told the judge that she doesn't expect that the Commonwealth will play the videotape during the trial, which just wrapped up its sixth week of testimony.

That declaration was prompted by a request from William J. Brennan, the lawyer for Father James J. Brennan, one of two defendants in the case. The defense attorney asked the judge if he could watch a segment of the tape where he questioned Bevilacqua, to figure out whether he wanted to use it as evidence in Father Brennan's defense.

Brennan was trying to broker a deal where he could sit in Coelho's office and view the tape, but Judge Sarmina wasn't buying it. The judge told Brennan that in her view the videotape belonged to the prosecution, since they had paid for it, and had gotten permission from the seminary to film there. The judge also mentioned that the prosecution made the motion after Bevilacqua's death to preserve the tape as evidence.

"It's not their property, it's evidence in a criminal trial," Brennan argued. The defense lawyer said he had the right to use the video if he thought it would help Father Brennan's defense. But when the judge raised objections to Brennan even viewing a portion of the tape, the defense lawyer protested that the judge had "some paranoid idea" that he was going to put the video on youtube.

There's a long-running gag order in the case that prevents lawyers on both sides from talking to the press. Of all the lawyers in the case, Brennan has bristled the most in court whenever the subject of the gag order has come up.

But on Tuesday, Brennan appeared to give up. After the judge voiced her objections to the defense lawyer even viewing the tape, Brennan sat down, threw up his arms, and said, "Forget it," and, "Do whatever you want, Judge."

What happened during the videotaped deposition is the source of some news and much gossip. In a court filing in December, lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn described the cardinal as frail, forgetful, as well as bewildered and struggling "to the point of tears."

"For the most part," Lynn's lawyers wrote, the cardinal's "memory bank was an empty room."

A day after Judge Sarmina ruled that Bevilacqua was competent to testify as a witness at the Billy Doe sex abuse trial, a servant on the grounds of the seminary found the 88-year-old cardinal dead at his home.

The next day, the local coroner, at the behest of the Montgomery County D.A., dispatched a crew to seize the cardinal's body for an autopsy.

Skeptics knew that Bevilacqua, once the mastermind of the archdiocese's orchestrated cover up of the sex abuse scandal, would have been a liability on the witness stand because people suffering from dementia can't control what they say.

Some wondered whether the cardinal had been the victim of foul play. One of those skeptics was Risa Vetri Ferman, the Montgomery County D.A., who told reporters, "It struck many of us as odd, as peculiar that the cardinal passed so suddenly way after the court ruling."

But when the coroner arrived at the seminary, the cardinal's body was gone. The church had already had it embalmed.

Meanwhile, at the ongoing sex abuse trial, Bevilacqua was transformed from being a liability on the witness stand to the designated fall guy. Indeed, Lynn's lawyers throughout the trial have defended the monsignor by blaming everything on the dead archbishop.

Regarding his declining health, cardinal's lawyers had claimed that His Eminence suffered from dementia and prostate cancer, and he had trouble recognizing old acquaintances. But Bevilacqua's mental acuity has been a subject of debate for years.

Back in 2005, after a grand jury issued a report that blasted Bevilacqua for orchestrating a coverup that successfully kept abuser priests out of jail, the archdiocese claimed that the grand jury tried to "bully and intimidate" the cardinal.

Bevilacqua, then 80, was called to testify before the grand jury on 10 separate days, and faced “hostile and unnecessarily combative” interrogation from two and three prosecutors at a time, lawyers for the archdiocese charged.

In response, then District Attorney Lynne Abraham said, “Any persistence in the questioning of Cardinal Bevilacqua may have resulted in part from his evasiveness and claimed forgetfulness on the witness stand.”

Bevilacqua's grand jury performance prompted comparisons to Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, the late Mafia boss known as the "Oddfather." When a federal court was debating Gigante's competency to stand trial on racketeering charges, the Chin was seen wandering the streets in pajamas, bathrobe and slippers, and mumbling to himself.

The last word on the subject came from Montgomery County Coroner Walter I. Hoffman, who said in March that Bevilacqua definitely suffered from dementia. "We do know it was fairly advanced," Hoffman told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I have a copy of a CAT scan that showed evidence of brain atrophy, the brain shrinking away."

Sadly, jurors and courtroom spectators won't get the chance to watch the tape, and form their own opinions.


  1. Well, we know now that 5/8 of the ones announced by the review board are considered to be unsuitable for ministry. Given that the most recent round of suspensions resulted in nearly 7% of all priests in active ministry being suspended, this meant that at least 5% of priests will be defrocked for abuse even after 2 grand jury proceedings. And it sounds like more of the 17 have been referred to law enforcement.

    This will be even worse since it is death by 1000 cuts. This trial will continue for several weeks more. Cardinal Bevilacqua will be the punchline in a bad farmer's daughter joke (or more aptly, a farmer's son joke). And defrockings and indictments will trickle out for the remaining 17 priests over the next few years.

    The US catholic church is done. Stick a fork in it and its over. And I say that with no smug satisfaction despite my lack of affection for the clerics; and my profound Atheism. At one time, the church ran a remarkable school system in major US cities where the public schools were deplorable. The elder care delivered by the good sisters in assisted living and skilled care was second to none. The charitable and social network maintained by the AOP was enviable by any organization. Thousands of kids participated in CYO and activities with minimal budget and helicopter parenting. Catholic colleges were a stepping stone to a better life for thousands of working class folks--walk around any successful organization and see the degrees on the wall from St. Joe's, LaSalle, Villanova, and the smaller ones like Chestnut Hill, Immaculata, Neuman, Cabrini, Rosemont, etc.. many of those degrees earned at night or as commuters.

    And you apologists can blame it on Vatican II, feminists, liberals, or bad press; but the real blame lies with the Bevilacquas, Krolls, Law and the like. They sacrificed it all for the sake of their pride and to protect what was rotten to the core. Crapped all over the humble servants of the church for the sake of maintaining their exclusive and corrupt boys club.

    So no, this person with 16 years of catholic education and generations of relatives who devoted their very existence to this tired old whore will take no pleasure in its ultimate demise. In the midst of all that phoniness, hypocrisy, and arrogance, great works did get done. Uneducated laborers gave their extra pennies to the church, laid the bricks for these monstrous cathedrals, sent their children to the schools, all with a promise of good faith that the church would preserve their capital wisely. In return, the bishops and cardinals pissed all over them and burnt it all down in less than a generation. Go after the nuns and put on show closing the barn door long after the cows have left.

    1. Well said.

      God gave us the Internet so the devil in the Catholic church could no longer hide the truth. Today's Catholic congregation refuses to seek the truth, and deserves the same eternity that the priests and bishops will get. If God is smart, that will be an eternity of being raped by someone two to three times their size. They accepted that as tolerable on earth, so there's no reason an intelligent God shouldn't give them an eternity of it.

      Godspeed to the victims of this conspired, calculated evil, and to those that fight for the victims.

    2. I couldn't have said it better. When my grandfather, the son of Irish immigrants, died at the age of 90 in 1980, the priest at his funeral said, "This man and his generation built the Church in America." Thousands, millions, of poor laboring people like my grandfather made sacrifices to build the huge cathedrals and pay for the mansions the bishops lived in. Their money did a lot of good, educated millions of children and paid for healthcare for millions of the sick and elderly, but it also allowed the hierarchy to get bloated and arrogant. The nuns did a lot of good, but they also indoctrinated so many children with the idea that priests and bishops must not be questioned, must be revered as if they were better than the people in the pews. This unquestioning obedience is what got the Church in so much trouble. You can see it in the testimony of the victims and their parents. Nobody reported these abusing priests because they were in awe of their authority. In reality, they were perverts in cassocks, and their superiors, who knew all too well the true nature of their crimes, simply covered it up. Why? Because they were used to blind obedience from their flock. I wonder how many Irish cops over the decades simply turned the other way rather than arresting priests who got into trouble. How many of them called the Cardinal's office rather than the newspapers. The people who gave the most to build the Church in America are the ones who got screwed the most. It's a sad time. I don't think there will ever be the kind of reverence and awe for the clergy among American Catholics as there was in the past.

  2. Kopride- I read this with tears in my eyes. I feel exactly the same. I could have not worded it as well as you, because although I know it, I don't want to believe it. Your words are powerful. I appreciate them.

    1. Momma- Fancy meeting you here. Erin from your blog : )
      I agree with your response to Kopride's post....and it hurts here, too.
      The structure of the hierarchy enables injustice, corruption, and- as the trial shows- criminality.

  3. Wow, twice I've posted here "not commenting just subscribing to comments" and no one commented afterwards... am I that scary? I really enjoy the banter, wish more persons would chime in...

    1. I read your blog and it was funny. Not funny in an interesting way but funny you accused the Church of tampering with you content as I am sure they have a crack team out there looking to take down blogs who repeat information and provide no value.

      As a fellow blogger, you need to be less of a victim and balance your opinions.

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    6. Dave Lear, I read your comment and it was funny. Not in the way that a man is funny, but in the way that a Catholic would jump into a blog and pick a fight with a victim of child sex abuse, in the way that only pedophiles and pedohpile protectors would do it. Funny because you don't have any manners and any sense of Christianity. Funny because you don't have the guts to fight another man. That kind of funny.

      You better show some respect, Dave Lear. You want to show the balanced opinions about how your pedophiles aren't so bad and your church of child sex abusers isn't so bad, you go do that, but you better show some respect for the victims here.

  4. Yes, its quiet. I did read a very interesting article recently about the USSCB (US conference of Catholic Bishops) becoming a very large recipient of federal aid related to "faith based initiative"social programs. According to the administration, $673 Million in federal grants went to catholic affiliated organizations between 2009-2012, up from $549 million in the prior three years. According to the USCCB 2010 report, they took n revenues totaling $221 million worth in federal funding for various social service programs.

    As the collection plate declines, the bishops are looking more to their political clout and the federal funds to be their revenue stream. While they readily accept this largesse, they protest loudly about any restrictions being placed on their right to discriminate on how the funds are used.

    This is why they are complaining much more loudly about Obama's birth control mandates than pedophile priests. Complaining that an administration who hands you nearly 3/4 a billion dollars in federal funds is anti-catholic and that any negative press about child sexual abuse s anti-catholic, is all part of controlling this huge stream of money. Next time that the church wants to talk about the good works they do, it is worth mentioning that much of that good comes at the expense of the taxpayers, i.e. direct federal grants, and tax deductions for charitable donations.

    Religion in this country is big business. And I think that the church could live up to the standard of secular charities and business. If 7% of Planned Parenthood administrators were currently suspended for credible allegations of child abuse, nobody would be supporting huge federal grants and tax deductions. If 7% of ACME managers were suspected of child abuse, then nobody would shop at ACME.

    1. Federal funding is also why the Bishops want to get the nuns in line. The USCCB wants to be the only spokesman and conduit of all that money. Last thing they need are some uppity nuns interfering with their money stream.

    2. If any other organization like Walmart MOVED & HID known child rapists, people (probably non-Catholics) would be relentless in doing eveything possible to put them in prison, where prisoners know exactly how to treat them.

    3. What!!! Kopride, when I read your post about the USCCB receiving Federal Grants, I just about lost it! I wonder if there will be any accountability about where the money is going to go, or if it is all going to be redirected to hiring attorneys and fighting prolonged lawsuits like the one up in Philly! Thanks for alerting us! Jeannie

  5. Yes, you hear so often from blind apologists, "Sure there was some sex abuse" **100 thousand kids in 50 years in the U.S.** "but the Church still does so much wonderful charity." As KoPride describes above, most of the Church's service to the poor comes from American taxpayers, with government grant money funded through Catholic Charities, et al. Thanks for the facts on that.

    1. To which you should respond,

      - Jerry Sandusky did so much great charity work
      - OJ Simpson did great charity work
      - Jeffrey Dahmer was very good at his job making chocolate

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