Msgr. Charles V. Devlin, 81, of Media, who as a pastor and archdiocesan administrator established an information hotline and Web site for Catholics, installed a religious holiday display in Center City, and initiated a dialogue with members of MOVE, died of lymphoma Monday at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby.
In 1978, Msgr. Devlin gave the homily at the Funeral Mass for Philadelphia Police Officer James J. Ramp, who was killed in a firefight between police and members of the radical group barricaded in a house in Powelton Village.
For months, the city and police had been locked in a stalemate with MOVE over the conditions of the group's compound and its threatening behavior. Msgr. Devlin, then director of the Cardinal's Commission on Human Relations, tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement. He brought food and water to MOVE members, who treated him with respect. "In my job, we have to believe in hope," he told a reporter in May 1978.
On Aug. 8, 1978, after MOVE refused pleas to surrender, the priest was with police when they entered the compound. MOVE members fired from the basement, killing Ramp and injuring four other officers and four firefighters.
After the shootings, Msgr. Devlin told a Philadelphia Daily News reporter, "I don't think anything could have been done differently. . . . I'm absolutely convinced MOVE intended to stay in there until moved out by gunfire."
As director of the Cardinal's Commission on Human Relations from 1973 to 1983, Msgr. Devlin often mediated neighborhood disputes, and established archdiocesan offices for Hispanic and black affairs.
After a decade as the commission's director, Msgr. Devlin became pastor at St. John the Evangelist Church on 13th Street for seven years. At Christmas, he installed an outdoor creche flanked by panels depicting biblical stories and contemporary scenes, including of the poor being fed in the shadow of City Hall. He told a reporter he set up the display to show that Christmas was not just "a winter snow and ice festival."
The pastor invited people living alone in rooming houses to Thanksgiving dinner at the rectory every year, said the Rev. Edward H. Bell, Msgr. Devlin's assistant at St. John's.
Msgr. Devlin grew up near St. John's with two brothers in a rooming house managed by his widowed father.
"I was a Center City urchin," he told a reporter in 1986. "I did something new and exciting every day."
His adventures included sneaking into the 1940 Republican National Convention when he was 12 and shouting with the crowd for the nomination of Wendell Willkie.
In 1989, Msgr. Devlin left St. John's to become the archdiocesan regional vicar for North and Northeast Philadelphia. During his eight years in the position, he oversaw the closing of several churches and schools.
From 1997 until 2003, he was archdiocesan vicar for renewal and evangelization. In November 1998, he set up a toll-free hotline manned by priests who answered questions about dogma and counseled callers. By March 1999, the hotline had logged more than 15,200 calls.
That month, he announced the launch of an archdiocesan Web site with priests replying to questions by e-mail.
Since retiring, Msgr. Devlin had been in residency at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Media, where he assisted with Mass and liturgies. Bell, who is pastor there, said people loved Msgr. Devlin for his compassion and his wit. He still had great enthusiasm and "woke up every morning with new ideas," Bell said.
Msgr. Devlin graduated from La Salle College High School and studied for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. After his ordination in 1955, he assisted pastors in parishes in Pottsville, Norristown, and Philadelphia before becoming an administrator.
He is survived by nieces and nephews.
A Funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. today at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, 18th Street and the Parkway. Friends may call from 9. Burial will be in St. John the Evangelist Parish Cemetery.