Neophyte, patriarch of Bulgaria's Orthodox Church, dies at 78

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis meets Patriarch Neophyte in Sofia in 2019

SOFIA (Reuters) - Patriarch Neophyte, a soft-spoken theologian who sought to restore the reputation of the Bulgarian Orthodox church hurt by links to businessmen and communist secret police, died at the age of 78, the church said late on Wednesday.

"After a long illness, His Holiness the Bulgarian Patriarch and Sofia Metropolitan Neophyte, the archbishop of our native Holy Orthodox Church died in the Military Medical Academy (VMA-Sofia) at 10:22 p.m., as a result of multiple organ failure," the church said in a statement.

Neophyte was enthroned in 2013 and succeeded Patriarch Maxim who led the church between 1971 and his death in 2012. About 80% of the population in the 6.8 million-strong Bulgaria are Orthodox Christians, but the reputation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was damaged after a history commission in January 2012 showed that 11 of its 15 bishops collaborated with the former communist-era secret police.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade and Stoyan Nenov in Sofia; Editing by Matthew Lewis)