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Timing was odd, but cardinal’s death wasn’t

PHILADELPHIA - A former leader of the Philadelphia archdiocese who died a day after he was ruled competent to testify at the child endangerment trial of a longtime aide died of natural causes, according to a county coroner who investigated at the behest of a suburban prosecutor who had deemed the timing of the death peculiar.

The Jan. 31 death of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua at a suburban seminary was caused by heart disease, with a contributing factor of prostate cancer, Montgomery County Coroner Walter Hofman said Thursday at a news conference. Scans of Bevilacqua’s brain also showed evidence of dementia that was “fairly advanced,’’ Hofman said.

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Just before Bevilacqua died at age 88, a judge ruled him competent to testify at the child endangerment 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 archdiocesan official from 1992 to 2004. District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman called for an investigation of the death last month, noting the peculiar timing.

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 was suffering from dementia and cancer.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell said Thursday that the cause of death was exactly what the church had expected all along.

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