Bishop Francis A. Quinn died Thursday. At 97 years old, he was the oldest living bishop in the United States at the time of his death.

Quinn served from 1980 to 1994 as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, which covers 42,000 square miles in 20 counties. He led a growing flock in Northern California, including seven new parishes, two elementary schools and one high school that opened under his leadership.

He encouraged lay Catholics – especially women – to take active roles in church governance and ministries. He supported ordination of deacons to help alleviate the shrinking ranks of priests.

An advocate for social justice, he spoke out against human rights violations, nuclear arms and U.S. military intervention in Central America. He publicly criticized local officials for raids on homeless campers, and he led prayers for immigrants outside the federal courthouse.

But he adroitly avoided conflict with Catholic Church officials on sensitive issues. He opposed abortion while disapproving of hardball anti-abortion tactics outside clinics. He pledged obedience to celibacy as a “man-made law … not scriptural,” and he openly speculated that women might one day be allowed as priests.

Some Catholics thought Quinn was too liberal because he allowed girls to be altar servers and voiced steadfast support for gay Catholics. Others grumbled that he did not pay enough attention to business details of running a diocese.

He came under heavy criticism for not responding aggressively to allegations of sexual abuse by priests. He was forced to testify in court after three women filed a 1991 lawsuit accusing a Glenn County priest of seducing them. Although the Sacramento Diocese was cleared of liability, the trial revealed allegations of sexual misconduct by other priests under his leadership as bishop.

In a 2010 interview with The Sacramento Bee, Quinn expressed regret for not moving quickly to protect children from harm.

“I was stupid and ignorant and take full responsibility,” he said. “We thought we were doing the doing the right thing, but we focused too much on the needs of the institution and not enough on the needs of the minor.”

Quinn’s lifestyle as bishop was modest. He disdained a big, expensive car in favor of an economical Ford Escort. He earned the nickname “basement bishop” for selling the bishop’s mansion and moving into a Spartan apartment beneath the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

“We were a poor family, and I grew up with natural humility,” he said in an 2012 interview. “My model was my patron saint, St. Francis. It was my nature to be humble.”

Full story at The Sacramento Bee.