(May 9, 2023) -- The Most Rev. Edward P. Cullen, Third Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown, died May 9, 2023, in Lehigh Valley Hospital Center-Cedar Crest, Allentown, Pa. He was 90.
Bishop Alfred Schlert, current Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown, said, “Bishop Cullen lived his life as a faithful servant of Jesus Christ and His Church. He was visionary in spiritual, pastoral, and temporal matters. 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 the Third Bishop of Allentown, Bishop Cullen provided strong leadership to strengthen ministries, improve administration, and benefit parishes and schools of the Diocese of Allentown.
As Bishop, he also significantly increased protections for children and young people, forged bonds of cooperation with law enforcement, and enhanced care for victims of abuse.
Bishop Cullen was born March 15, 1933, in Philadelphia, and grew up in Yeadon, Pa. He was the second of five children in a traditional Irish-Catholic family. He was a son of the late Edward P. and Julia (Leahy) Cullen.
The future Third Bishop of Allentown attended West Catholic High School, where he excelled in athletics, especially football and track. After high school, he was an engineering student at Drexel Institute of Technology.
Bishop Cullen entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia to prepare for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest on May 19, 1962, by Cardinal John Krol, then Archbishop of Philadelphia, at the Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.
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. Bishop Cullen continued to serve as the agency’s assistant director until 1983 and was director from 1983 through 1988.
Bishop Cullen was named Honorary Prelate to His Holiness 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 December 16, 1997, His Holiness Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Cullen as Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown. He was installed on February 9, 1998.
Almost immediately, Bishop Cullen began working proactively to remove offending priests from active ministry, and to implement policies and procedures to prevent abuse and protect children. He was a strong advocate for incorporating a Zero-Tolerance Policy into Church law to enable permanent removal of perpetrators.
In 2002, Bishop 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.
Bishop Cullen also expanded criminal background checks for priests, deacons, employees, and volunteers. He formulated the Diocese’s Sexual Abuse Policy and Code of Conduct. He established the Diocesan Review Board to assist the Bishop in dealing with abuse cases. He created the position of Victim Assistance Coordinator. He named Safe Environment Coordinators at parishes, schools, and other locations, and he required anyone with contact with children to take the “Protecting God’s Children” training course.
Bishop Cullen also reorganized diocesan administration and launched a spiritual initiative called Renew 2000, a diocesan-wide, parish-level program in keeping with Pope John Paul II’s call for new evangelization in the Church.
In 2003 Bishop Cullen launched a $28 million capital campaign called “Strengthening Our Future in Faith.” The people of the Diocese pledged almost $54 million to the campaign.
In 2005 Bishop Cullen convoked the Second Synod of the Diocese of Allentown. The Synod closed in 2006. In accordance with the Synod’s statutes, the Bishop appointed the Diocese’s first Pastoral Council to advise him on implementing the Synod’s statutes. The Synod resulted in a restructuring of some parishes to better position the Diocese for the future, while continuing to serve the faithful.
Bishop Cullen was a past chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Women in Society and the Church, and served in the past on the Conference’s Committee for Priestly Life and Ministry.
He was honored at the first annual Catholic Charities Gala in 2008 to mark his 10th anniversary as Bishop of Allentown. It was during his tenure that the diocesan Commission for Women was created, and during his time as Bishop that Project Rachel was created to minister to women who are suffering in the aftermath of an abortion.
“Being the Bishop of Allentown has been a tremendous blessing,” he once said, reflecting on his time as spiritual leader of the Diocese of Allentown, “a blessing that is rooted in being immersed into the life of a Catholic community that is, by any measure, superlative.”
Pope Benedict XVI accepted Bishop Cullen’s resignation, at age 76, on May 27, 2009.
In retirement, Bishop Cullen wrote a booklet, “Alive In the Holy Spirit” in 2012. He subsequently published a book, “Lord God Holy Spirit, Sanctifier: A Reflection on the Holy Spirit Alive Within Us,” along with a companion piece, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” In 2022, he published the book, “Our Eucharistic Lord: A Pathway to the Transformation of Our Soul.”
These were in addition to the pastoral letters he penned while serving as Bishop: “Experiencing the Love of Our Triune God” in 2008, and “The Cross and Suffering: The Bridge to the Transformation of the Soul” in 2009.
In retirement, he generously assisted successor Bishops in officiating at Confirmations around the Diocese, and conducting Retreats and Days of Recollection, in addition to devoting a great deal of time to personal prayer and reflection.