Amidst a backdrop of widespread rumors and speculation, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman held an impromptu press conference on Friday morning to explain why the Montgomery County Coroner is looking into the passing of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
"Ordinarily, when we are involved in investigative matters, we don't comment on them," said Ferman. "The reasons for that are quite obvious. We also don't want to ever target someone, smear someone, accuse someone or an institution's reputation without evidence of a crime."
"I've chosen to speak about this because I actually think the opposite is true here," Ferman continued. "If I were to remain silent on what's going on right now, I think it would actually generate speculation, which is really not appropriate."
Bevilacqua , a day after Common Pleas Court Judge Teresa Sarmina ruled that he could be compelled to take the witness stand in the child sex abuse trial of three priests who served in the archdiocese during his 15-yearterm as Archbishop of Philadelphia.
Like many other people in the region, Ferman learned of the Cardinal's passing through the news, but she was unaware that the death had actually occurred in Montgomery County. Once she realized that she had jurisdiction, she called one of her investigators to see if they knew anything about it or if the coroner--Dr. Walter Hofman-- had been notified.
"The situation struck me as peculiar," said Ferman. "It's somewhat odd that in the close proximity of time where the Philadelphia court had made a determination about this witness--he's all of a sudden found deceased."
Ferman stated that she asked one of her investigators to communicate with the coroner to identify the cause of death, which was previously reported as "natural causes". She also added that the decision to look into Bevilacqua's death was merely a suggestion on her part, in an effort to "put the rumors to bed".
According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dr. Hofman conducted a post-mortem examination of Bevilacqua's body after it had already been embalmed by a funeral home in Upper Darby. The body was returned to the funeral home on Tuesday, prior to its internment in the crypt of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.
When asked on Friday if the coroner had performed an autopsy on Bevilacqua, Ferman stated that she believed he had not.
No one from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has contacted Ferman regarding the investigation, and she added that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was cooperating in the matter.
Ferman said she doesn't expect to hear anything directly until the coroner is finished with his probe, unless there is evidence of foul play. Her initial conclusion is that nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
"At this juncture there is nothing that I need to see," said Ferman. "This is not a criminal investigation. I'm hopeful that what the coroner comes back and tells me is that the Cardinal died of natural causes, and that puts the matter to an end."