RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WAVY) - Former Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, a progressive leader in the U.S. Roman Catholic church and the longest-serving head of the Richmond diocese, has died. He was 84.
The Catholic Virginian assistant editor Judy Lindfors says Sullivan died in Richmond on Tuesday. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer.
Sullivan spent the majority of his life serving the church, including 29 years as bishop of the sprawling Richmond diocese and 21 years before that as a priest.
He was best known as one of the more progressive leaders in the Catholic church. He caused controversy by opening his churches to gays and lesbians, condemning wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and speaking out against the death penalty.
Sullivan took mandatory retirement at 75 in 2003.
Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach is named after him. According to the school's website, In the fall of 1993, the school opened as Catholic High School at its current Princess Anne Road location. Ten years later, to honor the soon-to-retire bishop, the school's name was changed again, to Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School.
Tim Kaine released the following statement on the death of Bishop Walter F. Sullivan :
"Anne and I are saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend, Bishop Sullivan. Through fifty years of service at the Diocese of Richmond, including nearly thirty at its helm, he was a strong voice and a powerful example for the spirit of service and unity that makes our Commonwealth great. His commitment to those whom society too often ignored was an inspiration to me and many others who were fortunate to cross his path. Today, the City of Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia are more welcoming, more inclusive, and stronger communities because of his work. That legacy will live on for many years to come."
Gov. Bob McDonnell released the following statement:
"Bishop Sullivan was a man of tremendous faith with a true servant's heart. He led the Catholic Diocese of Richmond for 29 years, 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. In this tough time, our thoughts and prayers are with his family and with the many, many individuals who knew him as a friend and mentor. Bishop Sullivan will be dearly missed."
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