UPDATED: Former Bishop Sullivan dies from liver cancer

Posted at 6:03 PM, Dec 11, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-12 13:44:02-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)— Funeral services are being planned for a well-known religious leader recently profiled by CBS 6 News.

A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond confirmed that former Bishop Walter Sullivan died at his home this afternoon.

Sullivan had been receiving treatment at Saint Mary's Hospital for an inoperable tumor on his liver.

The pastor of Saint Mary's Catholic Church talked to CBS 6 News about the man he called his hero.

"The passing of Bishop Sullivan marks the end of an era for us as Catholics in Virginia," said Father Mike Renninger.

Father Renninger said Sullivan had been a priestly presence in Virginia for over 40 years.

Ordained a priest in 1953, Sullivan became the 11th Bishop of Richmond and led the diocese for nearly 30 years.

During that time, Father Renninger says Sullivan was both admired and criticized for his mission to unite all believers.

"He reached out to people in prison, and spent time on Good Friday and Christmas praying with those who are incarcerated,“ said Renninger. “He reached out to gay and lesbian Catholics who perhaps felt there wasn't a place for them in the church."

It was a stance he said upset some of the church hierarchy in Rome.

Sullivan's tenure as bishop was marred by the priest sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church around the world.

He was criticized for reinstating a priest who had been suspended for sexual abuse.

But Renninger said Sullivan strove to create structures of accountability to ensure the church responded better to those cases.

Renninger said Sullivan will always be remembered as a Bishop, who, even after he retired in 2003, wanted to be with people most.

"He'll be remembered as a Bishop who was a pastor at heart, he always put people first,” said Renninger." “His voice will be missed.”

A prayer service will be held for Bishop Sullivan Friday night at 7 p.m. at Saint Mary's Catholic Church on Gayton Road.

The diocese is planning his funeral service and will release details in the coming days.

Below is one of the last interviews that Bishop Sullivan gave to the public, back in November when he talked about the divide between clergy and voters.