Cardinal Mum on Retirement at Colorful Mass

By Ron Goldwyn
Philadelphia Daily News
April 18, 2003

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua may be presiding at his final Holy Week liturgies, but there was no hint of it yesterday as he celebrated the colorful Chrism Mass with more than 400 priests.

Bevilacqua, expected to retire soon after he turns 80 on June 17, never mentioned retirement, even though, as one priest noted, "It was on everyone's mind."

The cardinal, who has declined to discuss retirement in any public forum, kept to tradition. He lingered in the aisles to greet and bless the faithful long after Holy Thursday services ended at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul. He returned to wash the feet of 12 seminarians at the Mass of the Lord's Supper.

Christianity's holiest week continues at Protestant and Catholic churches across the region with Good Friday and Easter Sunday services, observing the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

Bevilacqua's homily focused on the sacrifices, suffering and responsibilities of "my brother priests." He termed the Mass a "special way we commemorate God's gift of the priesthood."

Holy Thursday marks Jesus' gathering of the Apostles and is considered the anniversary of the all-male priesthood. That has led to another tradition outside the cathedral. About 40 supporters of ordaining women - which the church says it will never consider - rallied and prayed as they do each year.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Women's Ordination Conference has scheduled an all-day seminar May 3 titled, "Ordained Women God's Gift for a Renewed Church."

Inside the cathedral, priests in diocesan cream-and-gold robes or in the vestments of their religious orders rose and repeated their commitment.

The cardinal consecrated three oils - catechumens, sick and chrism - that priests use in sacramental duties all year. Afterward, each priest decanted oils from huge urns in a side chapel.

The service offered a sharp contrast to last year's Chrism Mass, when the unfolding sexual-abuse scandal rocked the priesthood. Bevilacqua's emotional endorsement drew tears and applause from a huge turnout of priests and a capacity crowd of laity who came to show their support.

Cardinals lose their right to vote in a papal enclave at 80. It's rare for an archbishop - Bevilacqua's title as leader of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia - to serve very long past that age. Any decision on Bevilacqua's retirement or successor will be made by one man, Pope John Paul II.

So the cardinal's every move in recent months has been seen as part of a victory lap of sorts through the ecclesiatical calendar - Christmas, Ash Wednesday, then Lenten season.

He's dedicated millions of dollars worth of social-service projects and made several major appointments this spring. Aides are readying new policies for his signature growing out of a diocesanwide synod and national bishops' norms in the abuse scandal.

Bevilacqua won't say whether he would accept the offer of a free retirement house to be built at St. Charles Seminary - a major embarrassment when it became public in February. But betting within the archdiocese is the house won't be built and he'll move to a refurbished VIP suite at the seminary instead.


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