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.