Retired Richmond bishop dies at age 84

Bishop emeritus Walter F Sullivan CNA US Catholic News 12 12 12 Bishop emeritus Walter F. Sullivan. CNA file photo.

Bishop emeritus Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond, Va., a prominent advocate of social issues, passed away on Dec. 11at his Virginia home after recently being diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer.

The Diocese of Richmond remembered Bishop Sullivan as a "man of the Gospel" and "a priest who stood for justice, compassion and peace."

"We commend him to Our Lord Jesus and ask your prayers for the repose of his soul and for the consolation of his beloved family and dear friends," the diocese said in a statement.

Bishop Sullivan led the Diocese of Richmond for three decades as its 11th bishop. Known for his work in justice and peace efforts, he also stirred controversy with some of his initiatives.

He created a Commission on Sexual Minorities and instituted an annual Mass for gays and lesbians. He also helped found a joint Catholic and Episcopal parish in Virginia Beach that held shared liturgies with dual altars.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell remembered the bishop as "a man of tremendous faith with a true servant's heart."

In a statement responding to the prelate's death, McDonnell described Bishop Sullivan as "touching many lives and always finding ways to bridge differences in his community and around the nation."

"Having visited with him many times I admired his love of life and passion to protect it, and his enthusiastic ministry to and advocacy for the poor," he said.

Born June 10, 1928, in Washington, D.C., Bishop Sullivan attended St. Charles College and St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.

He was ordained a priest in Richmond in 1953 and served as an associate pastor at several parishes in the diocese. In the years that followed, he received a canon law degree from The Catholic University of America and served as secretary of the diocesan tribunal, chancellor of the diocese and rector of the cathedral.

In 1970, he was ordained auxiliary bishop, and in 1974, he was installed as bishop of the Diocese of Richmond.

He served in this position until his retirement in September 2003, when he moved to St. Paul's parish and remained active in diocesan initiatives.

As his episcopal motto, Bishop Sullivan chose "To Unite All in Christ," from the prayer of Christ at the Last Supper, "that all may be one."

A strong advocate for the poor and homeless, he also spoke out openly against war and the death penalty.

At the administrative level, he was the Bishop-President of Pax Christi USA and served on the administrative board for the national bishops' conference. He was also part of a committee that created a 1993 statement by the U.S. bishops entitled "The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace," the statement marked the 10th anniversary of the bishops' pastoral letter on peace.

A funeral Mass for Bishop Sullivan will be held on Dec. 19 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond.

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