The retired Catholic archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, has died ahead of a church sex abuse trial.
The church said that Bevilacqua, 88, died in his sleep Tuesday night in his apartment at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
He had been battling dementia and an undisclosed form of cancer.
Bevilacqua's 15 years "as shepherd of the 1.5 million-member Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia was marked by both celebration and crisis," the Inquirer wrote.
According to the Associated Press, Bevilacqua — a civil and canon lawyer — was criticized by two grand juries on the handling of sexual abuse allegations against the Catholic church, but never charged. One spent 40 months investigating clergy sex abuse in the archdiocese.
The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office issued a report in September 2005 identifying Bevilacqua and another cardinal, John Krol, for systematically allowing hundreds of abuser priests to go unpunished and ignoring the victims.
"Sexually abusive priests were left quietly in place or 'recycled' to unsuspecting new parishes — vastly expanding the number of children who were abused," the 418-page report concluded, according to the Philly Inquirer.
Reports cited a lack of direct evidence against Bevilacqua, and Bevilacqua — who according the Inquirer wrote "was known for his personal touch with the faithful" — never responded publicly to the charges.
MSNBC reported that Bevilacqua died days before lawyers were set to do battle over his competency as a witness in the trial of a longtime aide, charged with endangering children through priest transfers.
According to the network, the second grand jury report "led to the charges against Monsignor William Lynn, three priests and a Catholic school teacher. Lynn is charged with endangering children by keeping dangerous priests on the job. His lawyers have argued that he took orders from Bevilacqua."
Defense lawyers had been arguing that Bevilacqua "no longer recognized Lynn" or "much of relevance to the case." More than one judge had judge had ruled, however, that he was competent to speak.
The Catholic Church has paid out some $2 billion in settlements to US victims of sexual abuse in the past decade.