updated 5/20/2008 11:29:14 AM ET 2008-05-20T15:29:14

Sister Catherine Mulkerrin, who pressed Roman Catholic church leaders in Boston to warn parishioners about priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children, has died. She was 73.

Mulkerrin died Saturday at Bethany Health Care Center in Framingham after a 24-year battle with cancer, said Sister Joanne Gallagher, spokeswoman for her religious order, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Boston.

Mulkerrin "was a gentle, caring woman with a wonderful sense of humor which those who knew her saw manifested in many ways," the order said in a statement.

As assistant director of the Boston Archdiocesan Office for Victims of Abuse from 1992 to 1994, Mulkerrin received allegations of clergy abuse and dealt directly with victims. She once said she heard allegations against more than 100 priests during that period.

Many of her memos to supervisors were later released as part of lawsuits filed against the archdiocese by alleged victims.

"I know I sound like a broken record," according to a memo from Mulkerrin that was released in 2002, "but we need to put in church bulletins: `It has come to our attention a priest stationed here between 19XX and 19XX may have molested children — please contact ... .'"

She said archdiocese leaders ignored her repeated concerns that priests accused of sexual abuse were allowed to return to parish work without the kind of supervision she had recommended.

"I expressed concern, consternation. What are we thinking of? What are you thinking of?" Mulkerrin said in a deposition released April 8, 2003, about her conversations with Bishop John McCormack, who handled sexual abuse complaints involving priests as an aide to Cardinal Bernard Law, then head of the archdiocese. Law resigned in 2003; McCormack became bishop of New Hampshire in 1998.

Took on the clergy
She said in the deposition McCormack told her he was trying to address her concerns. He later said through a spokesman he was following policy but acknowledged making mistakes during his time in Boston.

"She really confronted the Archdiocese of Boston six years before the sexual abuse scandal broke out. ... I think that she was incredibly brave to do that," said Sheila Boyle, 60, who received a settlement from the church after she was abused by a now-defrocked priest. "It took a tremendous amount of guts to do that at a time when no one really knew the breadth or scope of crisis was."

The clergy abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002. Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly addressed the issue on his U.S. visit in April. He also met privately with five victims and Law's successor as archbishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

Mulkerrin became a nun in 1955, working as a teacher and college librarian. She served six years as president of her order in Boston, resigning after her cancer diagnosis in 1984. She later began working for the Boston Archdiocese.

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