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Coroner: Retired US cardinal died of natural causes day after being cleared to testify
NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania (AP) ' A Catholic cardinal who died a day after he was ruled competent to testify at the child endangerment trial of a longtime aide died of natural causes, a coroner said Thursday, after a prosecutor thought the timing was peculiar.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died Jan. 31 of heart disease, with a contributing factor of prostate cancer, Montgomery County Coroner Walter Hofman told a news conference. Scans of Bevilacqua's brain also showed evidence of dementia that was "fairly advanced," Hofman said.
Just before Bevilacqua died at age 88, a judge ruled him competent to testify at the trial of Monsignor William Lynn, who's accused of quietly shuffling priests suspected of molesting children to unwitting parishes while he was a high-ranking official at the archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004.
Lynn's lawyers stressed that Lynn took his orders from Bevilacqua, who was never charged despite two grand jury reports that blasted the cardinal's leadership. Lynn has maintained he's innocent.
District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman called for an investigation of Bevilacqua's death last month.
The coroner, however, noted that there was no evidence of any injury to Bevilacqua's body, that no unexpected substances were found and that all prescribed medications were within "accepted therapeutic levels."
"It is my opinion there is no relationship between the judge's competency ruling and his eminence's subsequent sudden death," Hofman said. "His eminence was 88 years old, was under very good medical care, had significant preexisting natural disease. Elderly people suddenly die. This is a natural death."
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 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.
A message left on Thursday for Ferman, the prosecutor, was not immediately returned.