The Rev. Robert E. Mulvee, a retired bishop who led the Providence Roman Catholic Diocese from 1997 to 2005, died Friday at St. Antoine Residence in North Smithfield, R.I. He was 88.
Bishop Mulvee, a native of West Roxbury, served as auxiliary bishop in Manchester, N.H., before being appointed by Pope John Paul II as bishop of Wilmington in Delaware in 1985. He served in that role for a decade before his appointment as coadjutor bishop in Providence.
Bishop Mulvee led the diocese into an agreement in 2002 with victims of clergy sexual abuse. Ending a 10-year legal battle, the diocese agreed to pay $13.5 million to settle lawsuits filed by 36 people who said they were sexually abused by clergy in various parishes in the state.
The settlements covered 10 priests and one nun.
“We must face the reality that [the victims] have been betrayed by such abominable actions,’’ Bishop Mulvee told a news conference announcing the settlement. He apologized “with deepest sadness’’ to the victims, some of whom were present and wept as he spoke, The Boston Globe reported. “I hope that this action will be helpful to the victims of abuse and bring them, in some way, closer to closure and reconciliation with their God, their church, their families, and themselves.’’
Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin said Bishop Mulvee served the church with dignity and compassion.
Bishop Mulvee told the Providence Journal before his retirement in 2005 that his most painful moments as bishop in the city involved trying to make the right decision for people who were hurting, including those victimized or misled by the church.
“If you want to have healing, you have to listen to what the victims are saying,” he told the paper. “You have to look at the damage to their families and loved ones. You have to look at what damage is done to the vast majority of priests who are working every day trying to be good priests.”
In 2004, Bishop Mulvee spoke during a Mass in St. Ann Church in Cranston, R.I., a year after 100 people died in a fire at The Station, a nightclub in West Warwick, R.I.
Looking out from the pulpit at about 300 people in the church, some of whom still bore burn scars from the nightclub fire, he said he had never seen so many people “from every age and background reach out to one another, giving each other the strength and hope.”
Speaking of the families who would face future holidays and gatherings pained by the absence of those who had died in the tragedy, he added: “We also pray that God will give you comfort and strength in the days and years to come.”
The bishop reminded those in the church that Jesus had rescued his frightened disciples when they were caught in a boat during foul weather.
“It reminds us that God is the Lord of the storm as well as the calm — that God has proven to be with us on good days and bad days,” he said.
“Sometimes it is difficult to believe,” he added. “Dear God, help us in our unbelief.”
A Mass will be said Thursday Jan. 10 in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence. Burial be in St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston.