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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 525

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In this vault are the graves of John O’Connor and Edward Egan, cardinals in the Catholic Church.

O’Connor was born in Philadelphia to an Irish Catholic family in 1920. Egan was born in 1932 to another Irish Catholic family, this time in Illinois. Both of course went to Catholic schools and entered the priesthood upon completing their formal education. O’Connor joined the Navy Chaplin Corps in 1952 and went to Korea, where he walked through dangerous battle zones to give last rites to dying soldiers. He actually stayed in the Navy long enough to become a rear admiral, only leaving the military in 1979. While doing this, he also received his Ph.D. in political science from Georgetown, studying under a lovely woman named Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Egan also went on for the Ph.D., at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, receiving his doctorate in 1964. He became secretary to the Archbishop of Chicago and rose steadily through the Catholic hierarchy. He was named to commissions to promote interfaith relations with Protestants and Jews. In 1971, Pope Paul VI named him an auditor of the Sacred Roman Rota, which is the highest appellate tribunal within the Catholic Church. He also taught canon law at the Gregorian while there. He was named as well to all sorts of church posts over the next decade, most of which are extremely obscure to those of us not deeply informed about the byzantine ways of the Vatican. One of those roles though was being one of six canonists reviewing Pope John Paul II’s Code of Canon Law before its 1982 promulgation.

John Paul II appointed O’Connor auxiliary bishop of the Military Vicariate for the United States in 1979. In 1983, he was promoted to become Bishop of Scranton, then became Archbishop of New York in 1984. The next year, he became Cardinal. On some issues, O’Connor was pretty good. He was very pro-union, openly supporting the 1984 hospital strike by 1199 and kicking out an NBC team of reporters in 1987 when they sent a scab crew during a strike. He worked hard to build strong relationships with the Jewish community as well. This is all fine and good, but of course O’Connor, like the rest of the church, was primarily obsessed with punishing people for sex. His response to visiting Dachau was to found an institution to fight against abortion. He was outraged by the city of New York granting rights to gay people, including Ed Koch‘s 1980 mayoral order banning discrimination against gays for city contractors. He prohibited a group of gay Catholics from having mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and was a huge booster of the Hiberians banning any gay representation in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. He actively opposed condom distribution programs and that since sex was only for procreation, any condoms given how to protect gay men from AIDS was “an evil act.” He did slowly come around to a bit of humanity on the AIDS crisis at least and approved of a Catholic hospital in Manhattan opening a special unit to taking care of dying men. It does not seem, at least in what I can find, that O’Connor had any particular culpability in the epidemic of priests sexually abusing children, or I may just be struggling to find because there is another Cardinal O’Connor in Britain who is extremely caught up in this and so that’s all I am seeing.

O’Connor issued his age-mandated letter of retirement when he turned 75 in 1995, but John Paul II refused to accept it. But in 1999, O’Connor developed a brain tumor and died in 2000.

John Paul II named Egan to replace O’Connor. Egan had been named Bishop of Bridgeport in 1988 and stayed there for 12 years until O’Connor’s death. He was promoted to Cardinal in 2001. It was basically the same thing–some lip service to social justice and then lots of big actions to punish people for sex. He compared abortion to Hitler and Stalin. He refused to give the Eucharist to Rudy Giuliani because he was pro-choice and then gave a public statement of protest when the fascist mayor managed to receive the sacrament from Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to New York. He ranted about Hollywood destroying traditional marriage and pushing gay rights. It does sound like Egan has plenty on his hands when it came to sexual abusing priests. As Bishop of Hartford, he was confronted with the issue and simply refused to acknowledge or talk about it. He actually apologized in 2002–and then in 2012 retracted the apology and said the Church had done nothing wrong! In 2003, when Egan’s knowledge became public, his spokesman said that the Cardinal believed the innocent should be protected. Indeed, although I think we may have different definitions over who the innocents were.

Egan retired in 2007, when he turned 75. He died in 2015.

John O’Connor and Edward Egan are buried underneath St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Manhattan, New York.

If you would like this series to visit Catholics who actually did good in their lives, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Dorothy Stang, the nun who was murdered defending the environment and the people who worked in the Amazon, is in Reading, Ohio and Daniel Berrigan, the legendary anti-war priest, is in Auriesville, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here.


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