Former Bishop Cullen, who led Diocese of Allentown during parish consolidations, dies at 90

May 9—The Most Rev. Edward P. Cullen, third bishop of the Diocese of Allentown, died Tuesday in Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest, Allentown, at age 90, the diocese reported.

"Bishop Cullen lived his life as a faithful servant of Jesus Christ and His Church. He was visionary in spiritual, pastoral and temporal matters," current Bishop Alfred A. Schlert said in a statement. "Along with the clergy, religious and laity of the diocese, I mourn his loss and commend his soul to God's mercy, trusting in Our Lord's promise of reward to good and faithful servants."

During his 11 years as bishop, Cullen provided "strong leadership to strengthen ministries, improve administration and benefit parishes and schools," the diocese said. He also "significantly increased protections for children and young people, forged bonds of cooperation with law enforcement and enhanced care for victims of abuse."

It was also during his tenure, in 2008, that the diocese consolidated the 47 parishes throughout the five-county diocese, 32 of them in Schuylkill County, a decision that fueled considerable controversy.

Cullen was born March 15, 1933, in Philadelphia, and grew up in Yeadon.

After high school, he was an engineering student at Drexel Institute of Technology. He entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia to prepare for the priesthood and was ordained on May 19, 1962.

He graduated from St. Charles with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1958 and a Master of Divinity degree in 1974. He earned a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970; a Master of Arts degree from LaSalle University in 1971; and completed the Human Services Management Executive Program at Harvard Graduate School of Business in 1986.

It was when he was serving as an assistant pastor in Philadelphia that the course of his vocation changed.

In 1968, he was appointed an assistant director of Catholic Social Services, the springboard to two decades of service in social work. Cullen continued to serve as the agency's assistant director until 1983 and was director from 1983 through 1988.

Cullen was named honorary prelate to Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1982. He served as vicar for administration and vicar general of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1988 through 1998 and was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia on April 14, 1994.

On Dec. 16, 1997, Pope John Paul II appointed Cullen as bishop of the Diocese of Allentown. He was installed on Feb. 9, 1998.

Cullen began working proactively to remove offending priests from active ministry, the diocese reported, and to implement policies and procedures to prevent abuse and protect children.

In 2002, Cullen became the first bishop in Pennsylvania to convene a meeting of the district attorneys of the five counties of the diocese and turned over the personnel files of all priests known to have allegations against them. He also expanded criminal background checks for priests, deacons, employees and volunteers.

Cullen also reorganized diocesan administration and launched a spiritual initiative called Renew 2000, to which the people of the diocese pledged almost $54 million.

It was also during his tenure that the diocesan Commission for Women was created.

Pope Benedict XVI accepted Cullen's resignation, at age 76, on May 27, 2009.

He published a book and other writings in retirement and assisted successor bishops in officiating at various ceremonies.