February 1st, 2012
07:22 AM ET
By Sarah Hoye and Dan Gilgoff, CNN
Philadelphia's Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua has died at the age of 88, the city's Catholic archdiocese announced.
The announcement Tuesday comes as the archdiocese faces one of the most sweeping sex abuse scandals in America.
The allegations date from the time when Bevilacqua was archbishop. He was not himself accused of abuse, but one of his top officials has been charged with endangering the welfare of a child in a ground-breaking prosecution.
He gave testimony in November for the upcoming trial to ensure that his evidence would be considered despite his age and illness.
Judges had ruled that he was competent to testify, despite his lawyers' argument that he no longer recognized Monsignor William Lynn, a key defendant.
Bevilacqua testified 10 times before grand juries in 2003 and 2004 and was criticized severely in both grand jury reports.
The Philadelphia scandal could open a historic chapter in the abuse crisis, church watchers say, changing the way the American criminal justice system deals with church abuse.
A grand jury last year charged four priests and a parochial school teacher with raping and assaulting boys in their care.
The charges were unusual because they went beyond accusations against priests. A church higher-up was charged with covering up the abuse, which church experts say had never happened in the United States before.
All five pleaded not guilty to sexual abuse and conspiracy charges in April.
Edward Avery and Charles Engelhardt were charged with assaulting a 10-year-old boy at St. Jerome Parish in Philadelphia from 1998 to 1999.
Bernard Shero, a teacher at the school, is charged with assaulting the same boy there in 2000. Avery was defrocked in 2006.
James Brennan, another priest, is accused of assaulting a different boy, a 14-year-old, in 1996.
Monsignor William Lynn, who served as the secretary for clergy under Bevilacqua, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the alleged assaults.
From 1992 until 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children.
Bevilacqua served as archbishop of Philadelphia from February 11, 1988 to October 7, 2003, the archdiocese said in announcing his death.
He was elevated to the College of Cardinals on June 28, 1991.
He died in his sleep, the archdiocese said in a statement. It did not disclose the cause of death.
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