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Cardinal Edward Egan, Retired Archbishop of New York, Dies of Heart Attack



John Burger - published on 03/05/15

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Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who oversaw the Archdiocese of New York in a time of belt-tightening and scandals—as well as a decade of healing for a city hit hard by the 9/11 attacks—died Thursday. He was 82.

The Archdiocese of New York said in a statement the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

Pope Francis on Friday sent a telegram to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, expressing his condolences:

“Having learned with sadness of the death of Cardinal Edward M. Egan, Archbishop Emeritus of New York, I offer heartfelt condolences to you and to the faithful of the Archdiocese," Francis wrote. "I join you in commending the late Cardinal’s noble soul to God, the Father of mercies, with gratitude for his years of episcopal ministry among Christ’s flock in Bridgeport and New York, his distinguished service to the Apostolic See, and his expert contribution to the revision of the Church’s law in the years following the Second Vatican Council. To all assembled in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral for the Mass of Christian Burial, and to all those who mourn Cardinal Egan in the sure hope of the Resurrection, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of consolation and peace in the Lord.”

"Thank God he had a peaceful death, passing away right after lunch today, with the prayers and  sacraments of his loyal priest secretary, Father Douglas Crawford, in his residence at the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary," Cardinal Dolan said in a statement Thursday. "He was rushed to NYU Langone Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 2:20 pm this afternoon. Join me, please, in thanking God for his life, especially his generous and faithful priesthood."

Cardinal Egan was the first archbishop of New York to retire rather than die in office. The tall, erudite cardinal kept a relatively low profile compared to the newsmaking Cardinal John O’Connor, his immediate predecessor. It was widely believed that Pope John Paul II had sent Egan to New York to straighten out the archdiocese’s financial difficulties. Through cuts in staffing, closing or merging parishes and schools and by raising millions from corporations and wealthy laymen, he made the Archdiocese and its various agencies debt-free, according to a statement on the archdiocesan website, which listed some of the highlights from Cardinal Egan’s nine-year tenure:

The number of registered parishioners increased by 204,000, the budget of Catholic Charities more than doubled, enrollment in Catholic elementary and secondary schools grew by 15,400, the Archdiocesan newspaper became the largest in the nation…. In 2001, Cardinal Egan opened a new facility for the Saint John Neumann Seminary and Hall in Yonkers, New York. In 2004, he established the John Cardinal O’Connor Residence for retired priests of the Archdiocese in the Riverdale area of the Bronx. In 2006, he inaugurated the “Catholic Channel” on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, providing Catholic programming twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the United States and Canada. In 2008, he authorized and funded the construction of a new campus ministry center at New York University in Manhattan. Likewise in 2008, on the occasion of the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Diocese (later, Archdiocese) of New York, Cardinal Egan had the honor of welcoming His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, to New York for a Pastoral Visit that included the celebration of Mass by the Holy Father in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Yankee Stadium as well.  

The cardinal had a deep, sonorous voice, and in his homilies he often brought in elements of Church history to drive home a point.

Just a year after his installation in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in July of 2001, Pope John Paul named Cardinal Egan to serve as the Moderator of a Synod of Bishops in Rome in September and October of that year. He was in Rome when New York City and Washington, D.C., were attacked by Islamic terrorists on September 11, and he returned as soon as he was able. He went on to lead the city’s Catholics in prayer and healing. 

“I am sure,” he said at one point, “that we will seek justice in this tragedy as citizens of a nation under God, in which hatred and desires for revenge must never have a part.”

Born on April 2, 1932, in Oak Park, Illinois, Edward Michael Egan was ordained a priest in Rome for the Archdiocese of Chicago on December 15, 1957. Among other assignments in Chicago, he served as secretary to Cardinal Albert Meyer.

In the early 1960s he served at the North American College in Rome and earned a doctorate in canon law at the Gregorian University. Returning to Chicago, he served as secretary to Cardinal John Cody and several boards and commissions dealing with ecumenical and social issues.

But Rome called again, as his official biography on the website of the Archdiocese of New York detailed:

In 1971 Cardinal Egan returned to Rome as a judge of the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota, a position he held until his episcopal consecration in May of 1985. While in Rome, he was as well a professor of Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University; a professor of Civil and Criminal Procedure at the Studium Rotale, the law school of the Rota; a commissioner of the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship; a consultor of the Congregation for the Clergy; and in 1982 one of six canonists who reviewed the new Code of Canon Law with His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, before its promulgation in 1983.

From his consecration as a bishop in 1985 until 1988, he served as an auxiliary bishop to Cardinal O’Connor and as Vicar for Education of the Archdiocese of New York. Bishop Egan drafted curriculum guidelines and won respect for his work on Catholic schools, according to the New York Times. At a City Council hearing on contraceptives for high school students, he criticized the city’s sex education program and urged lessons in abstinence. “Try decency,” he said. “Try chastity. Try Western civilization.”

In 1988, Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop of the neighboring Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Though the diocese consists of only one county, it is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, and friendships Bishop Egan made among the wealthy served him well later as archbishop of New York. The county also has blighted areas and immigrant communities, a foretaste of what he would find in New York. 

He also carried out the kind of belt-tightening he would do for the New York Archdiocese, closing or merging schools, and raising some $45 million to stabilize the diocese.

But he came under fire for how he handled allegations of sex abuse by priests in Bridgeport. Critics say Egan failed to report the allegations to authorities, sought to cover up the claims and allowed offending priests to continue working, according to Reuters. The diocese eventually paid nearly $40 million to settle dozens of claims of abuse by priests from the 1960s through mid-1990s.

Reuters pointed out that although Egan apologized in 2002, saying he was "deeply sorry" about mistakes the diocese may have been made, he later insisted he had done nothing wrong and that he regretted making the earlier apology.

In 2000, just a week after the death of Cardinal O’Connor, Pope John Paul named Bishop Egan Archbishop of New York and created him a cardinal in 2001. 
He was the ninth archbishop and seventh cardinal of the See of New York. The sexual abuse cases in Bridgeport would haunt him throughout the decade, and he had to take on old cases in the Archdiocese of New York. The Times pointed out:

Like bishops across the nation, he set up a lay review board to evaluate accusations and make recommendations. The cardinal suspended more than a dozen priests and gave their files to prosecutors, who generally found the cases too old to be prosecuted.

On April 19, 2006, Cardinal Egan participated in the Consistory that elected Pope Benedict XVI. Two years later, he welcomed the Pope to New York, accompanying him to Ground Zero and concelebrating Mass with the Pontiff at Yankee Stadium.

In May of 2009, at the age of 77, Cardinal Egan retired as Archbishop of New York. He maintained and assisted in the works of the archdiocese, while serving on a number of offices of the Vatican.

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