Cardinal William Keeler dies at age 86


Archbishop William Lori announced in a statement that Keeler died at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville. Cardinal Keeler was visiting Cuba to demonstrate his support of Cuban Catholics as they celebrated the New Year and prepared for Pope John Paul II's visit.

(Catonsville, Md.) - Cardinal William Keeler, who helped ease tensions between Catholics and Jews and headed the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in the US for 18 years, has died. No cause was disclosed. "It's an important relationship, especially here in Baltimore where there is such a big Jewish and Catholic population".

It was one of the most comprehensive accounts provided by any diocese.

The cardinal's funeral Mass will be held March 28 at Baltimore's Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, after which his body will be interred in the basement crypt at the city's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"Not a day went by", he said, when a bishop did not call Cardinal Keeler for advice.

The cardinal was lauded by many for being the first in the nation to name accused priests, detailing financial settlements and publicly apologizing for priests' crimes.

"He found that by interacting with the young people of the archdiocese, he personally was enlivened in his own faith", Bishop Parker said. "Most often it's not just one, it's more than one".

Cardinal Keeler was an ardent promoter of the Catholic Church's teaching on the sanctity of all human life. He was also part of a national Jewish-Catholic alliance in 1999 to abolish the death penalty.

He was created a cardinal by the pontiff in 1994. In 1987, he helped arrange meetings between the pope and American Jewish leaders, who felt stung by John Paul II's earlier reception at the Vatican of former Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, alleged to have past Nazi links. Waldheim had been tied to Nazi atrocities in the Balkans during World War II, and Jewish leaders were furious. Glemp had delivered a sermon two years before that many Jews viewed as containing anti-Semitic references.

In Baltimore, Cardinal Keeler worked hard to secure funding for at-risk children and youth to attend Catholic schools in the archdiocese. The most fitting tribute we can offer is to carry forward his episcopal motto in our daily lives: "'Do the work of an evangelist, '" Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement.

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Keeler was a priest for 37 years and served as an expert adviser to Pope John XXIII at the reforming Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.

Keeler was born in San Antonio, Texas, and grew up in Lebanon, Pa. He received a degree in sacred theology from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1956 and a doctorate in canon law in 1961.

He was ordained a priest in Rome July 17, 1955. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Harrisburg in 1979, and in 1983 became bishop of the same diocese.

Cardinal Keeler retired in 2007 as the head of the archdiocese of Baltimore. There he oversaw the closing of urban parishes and parochial schools while also raising money for financial aid.

Archbishop Keeler was also elected as president of the US bishops' conference in 1992, where he helped coordinate 1993's World Youth Day celebrations in Denver.

Poston says Cardinal Keeler leaves a great legacy behind. Keeler and the priest who was killed were passengers in the auto.

"There I saw how well and wisely he dealt with the public realm", the archbishop recalled, musing that the cardinal was, without being aware of it, "kind of giving me an apprenticeship for this job".

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Edwin F. O'Brien to succeed Cardinal Keeler in 2007.

"If Benjamin Henry Latrobe were to walk into this basilica today, he would recognize his genius, his handiwork", Archbishop Lori said, referencing the famed architect who had a major hand in designing the U.S. Capitol as well as the basilica.