Cardinal As Tough As the Questions

By John Baer
Philadelphia Daily News [Philadelphia]
February 25, 2003

IT'S A tough time to be an archbishop. And a tough time to be an archbishop answering questions on statewide TV.

But that's where Cardinal Anthony Joseph Belivacqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia, was yesterday - and, I must say, he showed a certain showmanship and worldly aplomb.

The 79-year-old Brooklyn-born lawyer/prelate, who I've long viewed one of the best politicians in the state, took heat but radiated confidence.

At a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg, he was asked about sex scandals, women in the church and Ed Rendell.

And, no, that was not all one question. He also was asked about controversy over an offer by a wealthy contractor to build him a big house with a gym and an office for when, as expected, he retires after hitting the big 8-0.

Bevy, by the way, looks fit and terrific, but says he fully expects the pope to pull the plug after his June 17 birthday.

Press Club questions come anonymously from the audience, read by a moderator. But I know, because I know, Daily News colleague Chris Brennan asked the toughest.

"What would Jesus do if offered a free $400,000 house at a time urban parishes and schools are closing?"

Bada-bing! There was no lightning. And Bevy didn't flinch.

"He'd think about it," he said.

Hmmm. No way to check, of course, but one wonders.

Sex-abuse questions brought references to 3,000 Philly priests, 35 credible cases in 50 years. Not an excuse, he said, a perspective.

What does he tell priests? "Be holier priests."

Do sex scandals reduce recruits or contributions? Too soon to tell on recruits, no impact on contributions.

Why no female priests? "Do you have three hours? I'll explain it to you." But the shortened version sounded to me like "cuz God says so."

Advice for Gov. Rendell? He smiled and said, "Be a good governor." And so it went. Give and take with lots of proof the guy can take a punch.

And think about questions that could have been asked.

If Michael Jackson were a Catholic priest, would you transfer him to another parish?

How do you say "will the defendant please rise" in Latin?

Did you know if you type Trappist monk into self-correcting computer programs, spell check changes it to Rapist monk?

With proposed gaming expansion in the air, might the church consider Poker Prayer Nights?

Have you noticed one of the Village People is wearing a clerical collar?

You're a priest and a lawyer; coincidence or wave of the future?

And one reporter suggested asking, "Am I going to hell? Ed Rendell."

So, you can see this top priest gig is not all free wine and free 4,000-square-foot houses.

In fact, my question, which actually did get asked and answered, seemed to sum things up. "Did any of the clergy present today bring along resumes, you know, to succeed you?"

Bevy laughed. He said anybody offering resumes for his job is "either a saint or's pretty difficult to be an archbishop today."

Amen, brother. I mean, father. I mean, your eminence.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.