Former USCCB president and Archbishop of Cincinnati dies age 85

scan0005 Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk. | Catholic Telegraph

The former head of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference and archbishop emeritus of Cincinnati, Daniel E. Pilarczyk, died on Sunday at the age of 85. 

A statement from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati said that Pilarczyk died "peacefully" on Sunday morning, but did not offer further details. Public funerals are currently suspended in the archdiocese because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference, led tributes to the archbishop on March 22.

"He was known as a shepherd close to his flock. The Archbishop led during challenging times but sought reconciliation and reform with humility," Gomez said of Pilarczyk on Sunday.

"Among his brother bishops, Archbishop Pilarczyk was recognized as one of the outstanding churchmen of his time," said his successor, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati. "They elected him not only president of what was then the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, but also chair of every significant committee of the bishops' conference."

Ordained a priest in 1959, Pilarczyk was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Cincinnati in 1974, serving also as the vicar general for the archdiocese.

In 1982, he became the archbishop of Cincinnati, succeeding Joseph Bernardin who was appointed Archbishop of Chicago. At the time of his retirement in 2009, Pilarczyk was then the longest-tenured archbishop in the U.S., having served for 27 years.

In that time, he also served as vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, from 1986 until 1989. That was followed by a three-year term as president of the conference until 1992, as the U.S. prepared to host its first World Youth Day in Denver in the summer of 1993.

Pilarczyk also served in a number of national positions, including as the chair of the conference's Committee on Doctrine from 1996 until 2000, chair of the Committee on Liturgy from 1984 to 1986, and chair of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) from 1991 to 1997.

The archbishop also served as the chairman of the board of trustees for the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1988 until 1990.

Reflecting on Pilarczyk's tenure as archbishop and head of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference, Gomez called him "generous also in service to his brother bishops."

As Cincinnati's archbishop, Pilarczyk also oversaw the archdiocese's response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. In 2003, he filed a no-contest plea in court to five misdemeanor counts of failing to report the sexual abuse of children, and the archdiocese established a $3 million victim's fund on his watch.

"I express my sorrow and shame at the suffering that priests and other church employees have inflicted on young parishioners," Pilarczyk said at a press conference after the plea, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"The Ohio bishops wanted a resolution. It was a difficult time for the Church," Pilarczyk's successor Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati reflected on the decision on Sunday in an interview with Sacred Heart Radio.

"The agreement was that the Archbishop of Cincinnati would enter the plea and that a fund for victims would be established," Archbishop Schnurr said. "I know he [Pilarczyk] put his heart into it. It was a tragic moment."

While archbishop, Pilarczyk was also rector of Mount St. Mary's Seminary and School of Theology, also called the Athenaeum of Ohio.

Archbishop Schnurr said that Pilarczyk would be remembered as a "teacher."

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"Some seminarians told me they thought he was stern, but I explained he never forgot to be the teacher, always in control, tolerating no nonsense and always ready to correct," Schnurr said.

"He was regarded by his fellow bishops as an intellectual, a scholar. He was one of the few bishops who could carry on a conversation in Latin," said Schnurr.

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