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Leader of Philadelphia Catholics Turns 80

June 28, 2003|From Times Wire Reports

The oldest American cardinal still running an archdiocese, Philadelphia's Anthony J. Bevilacqua, has reached his 80th birthday and shows no sign that he wants to retire.

Still, that doesn't stop observers from speculating on who will replace the spiritual leader of the 1.5 million Roman Catholics in the nation's seventh-largest diocese. Some think the Vatican will ask Bevilacqua to step down from his post by the end of the year, even in a matter of weeks.

A cardinal's 80th birthday is an important one in the eyes of the church. At that age, Bevilacqua remains a cardinal, but can no longer vote in the conclave that chooses a new pope. He also has surrendered his seat on four Vatican councils and congregations.

Bevilacqua submitted his mandatory letter of resignation to Pope John Paul II when he turned 75 in 1998, but the pontiff did not accept his retirement. The cardinal instead continued with what he calls his "delightfully hectic" 16-hour days.

Born in Brooklyn, where he was ordained in 1949, Bevilacqua holds degrees in both church and civil law, and is admitted to practice law in New York, Pennsylvania and before the U.S. Supreme Court. He became an auxiliary bishop in Brooklyn in 1980, before being named bishop of Pittsburgh in 1983 and then archbishop of Philadelphia in 1988.

Archbishop Justin F. Rigali, 68, of St. Louis is often mentioned as a potential successor to Bevilacqua. So is Bishop Donald W. Wuerl, 62, of Pittsburgh.

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