Retired Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, died in his sleep on Tuesday at the age of 88. Bevilacqua was embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal at the time of his death.
Bevilacqua died at 9:15 p.m. local time, according to a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. Funeral arrangements for Bevilacqua are pending.
The retired Catholic archbishop was facing an impending trial over allegedly endangering children by covering up abuses and shifting predator priests around parishes to camouflage the abuse.
"Sexually abusive priests were left quietly in place or 'recycled' to unsuspecting new parishes – vastly expanding the number of children who were abused," a 2005 grand jury report concluded.
From 1988 until he retired from his post in 2003, Bevilacqua, who was often described as a recluse but publicly charismatic leader, served as the spiritual head of over 1.5 million Catholics across the Philadelphia area.
Born in 1923 to poor Italian immigrant parents, Bevilacqua grew up in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and was the ninth of 11 children. As a result of his experiences in his youth, once Bevilacqua became an ordained priest at the age of 26, he took several measures within the church to help other immigrant families struggling to survive in the United States.
"We don't help people because they are Catholic, we help them because we are Catholic," he often said.
Bevilacqua was head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop's Pro-Life office and opposed homosexuality and abortion.
"Like Christ, I need you to drive out demons of all kinds: injustice, racism, unjust discrimination, abortion, pornography and all kinds of immorality, sin of every sort, drug abuse, violence, homelessness, unemployment, poverty, ignorance, and so many other demons whose name is legion," Bevilacqua said at his first homily given when he became Philadelphia Cardinal.
Although Bevilacqua has been fighting dementia and an undisclosed form of cancer, he was ruled competent to stand trial prior to his death. The 88-year-old's competency to stand trial was a hotly debated topic in court throughout the trial proceedings.
On Monday, lawyers for the Cardinal claimed that he was no longer able to recognize a former longtime aide and argued that Bevilacqua remembered little about his former appearances before the court. His lawyers maintained that his dwindling memory bared them from conducting meaningful cross-examination during the trial.