Connecticut bishop selected to serve as New York's archbishop

Posted: Friday, May 12, 2000

NEW YORK -- Bishop Edward Egan of Bridgeport, Conn., an uncompromising defender of traditional Vatican teachings, was selected by the pope Thursday to succeed Cardinal John O'Connor as spiritual leader of the New York Archdiocese's 2.4 million Roman Catholics.

Egan, 68, will become the 12th archbishop of New York when he is formally installed June 19. He is also widely expected to be elevated to cardinal by Pope John Paul II.

At a news conference, Egan said he hoped to gain the same acceptance in New York that the Philadelphia-born O'Connor had achieved during his 16 years in the church's most prominent American pulpit.

O'Connor died last week of a brain tumor at age 80.

''I can tell you there is no place in the world that is quicker to accept someone who wants to be a New Yorker,'' said Egan, who worked in the New York Archdiocese earlier in his career. ''I want to be a New Yorker, and I guess I am officially one.''

Asked about abortion and birth control, Egan, as he has done staunchly during his career, backed the pope's opposition to both. Asked by a Vatican radio reporter whether he would be pro-life, Egan answered in both English and Italian.

''With all the enthusiasms and insistence and light that I can possibly add, the answer is yes,'' he said. ''Without any question, yes.''

Egan appeared to understand clearly that the New York Archdiocese, though only the third-largest in the nation, is the most visible by virtue of its location in the nation's media capital.

While bantering with the media, Egan encouraged a reporter from WNBC-TV to use speak louder in identifying the station: ''Don't you think Mr. Wright'' -- NBC president Bob Wright -- ''wants to hear that?''

Egan spent 12 years leading 367,000 Catholics in the diocese of Bridgeport, where he won acclaim for reorganizing diocesan schools and recruiting local men into the priesthood. He also raised millions of dollars in his annual bishop's appeal in the diocese, which embraces Fairfield County, one of the richest in the United States.

''He's a renaissance man who can cheer at a Cubs game,'' said Monsignor Timothy Dolan, an American who heads the North American Pontifical College in Rome. Egan studied there after his 1957 ordination. ''He's also an imposing figure and a great preacher,'' Dolan said, noting the similarity to O'Connor. ''When Ed Egan walks into a room, he doesn't go unnoticed.''

Linda Pieczynski, spokeswoman for the Chicago-based church reform group Call to Action, described Egan as ''very conservative.''

''My understanding is that he is very personable, but also very rigid in his approach to issues,'' she said.

Egan, born in Oak Park, Ill., studied theology at Rome's Gregorian Pontifical University. He served from 1971 to 1985 on the Vatican tribunal that decides such matters as whether to grant annulments.

In Bridgeport, Egan came under fire for defending the diocese against more than two dozen lawsuits over alleged sexual molestation by priests. Although all but one of the cases preceded Egan's arrival, they raised tough questions over whether abuse was covered up.

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