Jon Campisi Feb. 1, 2012, 8:31am

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the retired head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and who was expected to testify in an upcoming priest sex abuse case, died in his sleep on Tuesday night, according to local news reports.

On Monday, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina had ruled Bevilacqua legally competent to testify in court, according to local news reports.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sarmina's ruling on Tuesday that Bevilacqua, 88, could testify during the trial of three priests who stand accused of molesting young boys some years back.

Sarmina, who had imposed a gag order barring lawyers from publicly discussing the particulars of the case with the media, first ruled Bevilacqua legally competent to testify during a private meeting between the jurist and attorneys late last year, according to news reports.

Defense attorney Thomas A. Bergstrom subsequently pushed to renew his motion to prevent Bevilacqua from testifying.

Bergstrom represents Msgr. William Lynn, a former official with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who is accused of assigning priests to parishes despite knowledge that the men of the cloth had tendencies toward pedophilia. He is also accused of not taking appropriate disciplinary action against the priests.

News reports have stated that Lynn is the first high-ranking Catholic Church official in the nation to be charged criminally for alleged offenses related to priest molestation.

According to the article in the Inquirer, Lynn, 61, served as Bevilacqua’s secretary of clergy for more than a decade starting in 1992. Part of Lynn’s job duty was to assign parish priests to churches throughout the Archdiocese.

The newspaper reported that Lynn’s defense team objected to allowing Bevilacqua to testify, fearing the former prelate’s mental and physical status would hamper their ability to cross-examine the former cardinal.

“He could not even identify my own client,” Bergstrom argued in court, according to the Inquirer.

Bergstrom stated that Bevilacqua couldn’t recall testifying before a grand jury in 2003 and 2004 during an investigation into clergy sex abuse, the paper reported.

Despite defense team protestations, Sarmina agreed with prosecutors that the former cardinal’s memory problems wouldn’t be enough to prevent him from testifying in front of a jury.

Aside from the upcoming criminal trial, Lynn, Bevilacqua and others were named as defendants in a civil suit filed this past summer on behalf of a plaintiff known only as “Billy Doe.”

The lawsuit, filed in July by Philadelphia attorneys Slade H. McLaughlin and Paul A. Lauricella, alleges that the plaintiff suffered sex abuse at the hands of former parish priests while the young man, then 10, was a student at a Northeast Philadelphia Catholic School.

That suit is pending in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court.

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