Practical Businessman with Heart Heads into Heaven: Cardinal Egan, R.I.P.

Cardinal Edward Michael Egan, who died March 5 at the age of 82, may have had one of his greater moments as a churchman during 9-11 at Ground Zero. In response to New York’s Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who needed to comfort and console his people before they even knew what had happened at 9-11 when passenger jets took down the iconic Twin Towers, Cardinal Egan went to the scene. On that September morning Cardinal Egan began days of ministry to workers, injured and deceased, that went on day after day. On the scene he risked contamination to the point that each night he had to get rid of all the clothes he wore—even his shoes. His was a practical ministry.

He drew some controversy for his actions before 9-11, especially the handling of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, especially when he called clerics individual contractors when it came to arguments in cases of pedophilia. After 9-11, Cardinal Egan came more beloved.

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On day one he met with workers awaiting victims at a nearby hospital, including a young student doctor whom he comforted as the physician in training awaited the crash victims, knowing his father was in the falling towers in the distance. Cardinal Egan sought to draw the distraught young man aside, but the student would not leave because he said his duty was to be with the sick, no matter his personal involvement in the crisis.

Days later Cardinal Egan reported this to Pope John Paul II, who asked him to arrange for the young man to receive money from the pope to help pay medical school expenses now that the student’s father was gone. (Cardinal Egan received some criticism for leaving for Rome to attend a Synod after September 11, but he was eager to return home.)

Cardinal Egan had no worries for his own health amid the smoldering rubble. He saw that the breadth of his ministry extended well beyond leading prayers and funerals at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for those who worked at the Twin Towers and the firefighters who tried to rescue them. He worked with rescuers, one who said he had offered the last rites—actually offered prayers with a dying man—to a victim. The cardinal felt no need to give the man a theology briefing on last rites, but only to thank the rescuer for his care.

Contamination of the body did not worry Cardinal Egan. He worried more about contamination of the soul. Like all Americans, Cardinal Egan felt angry as he learned details of the attack, but he also knew he had to be a voice of reason and justice when people were quick to demand revenge. That was his verbal message in homilies.

Cardinal Egan did not get much praise for what he did. By nature, he was not gregarious like his predecessor Cardinal John O’Connor, who kissed women reporters and playfully punched in the arm the men on the church media beat. Nor was he like Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who succeeded him, another gregarious Irishman who was never camera shy.

Cardinal Egan was a canon lawyer who had spent most of his years in Rome. He had a personal friendship with Pope John Paul II from his work with him on revising the church’s Code of Canon Law. He loved the church and its institution from his days studying in Rome and later working there. He loved his role leading the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut and the Archdiocese of New York and the people there. He excelled as a church businessman. He was aware that, as one Catholic hospital official has said, without margin there is no mission. That’s a financial reality that Cardinal Egan knew, but he also will pray for all of us from the boardroom seat he assumes now in heaven.

Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., is a member of the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and the U.S. Church Correspondence for America.

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Sandi Sinor
2 years 7 months ago
Unfortunately the Cardinal did not show the same empathy for the victims of Catholic priests as he did the victims of Islamic terrorists. Instead, he did all he could to protect the money of the diocese from those who were victims of the church - who were raped and molested by the priests. As you say, he excelled as a businessman, using maneuvers to avoid responsibility which may have been legal but were not moral. So he did not excel as a pastor, at least not for the church's own victims. The message was clear - if you are experience tragedy as a victim, just pray that the victimizer was not an employee of the church OR even a "contractor" who happened to wear a Roman collar and was expected to obey all that his bishop commanded.
Martin Eble
2 years 7 months ago
It is nearly impossible to discuss a Catholic prelate without the issue of clerical sex abuse being raised. Shortly thereafter we can expect the Crusades, the Inquisition, and perhaps Pius XII and the Jews. The accusations against Edward Cardinal Egan imputes wilful revictimization of victims, perfect knowledge of the truth of allegations, and complete control over each and every cleric to him. The facts don’t support those accusations, it’s just the same old folderol. .
Sandi Sinor
2 years 7 months ago
The facts show that as bishop in Connecticut, Egan transferred priests from parish to parish, where they could prey on new victims. His excuse - "mistakes were made". By whom, bishop? Of course, in the way of all who try to escape responsibility for their own decisions and policies, he used the passive voice - precisely in order to avoid admitting responsibility and culpability. He says he did what all the other bishops did - don't we often tell kids that doing what everyone else does doesn't make it right? It wasn't right. And the bishops of the world, not just the US, and the bishop of Rome, have yet to make it right. No bishops have been forced to resign for enabling the sexual abuse of the church's young people. None have been disciplined for using millions of the donations of the ordinary people in the pew to pay lawyers to do their best to deny compensation to victims. This bishop very efficiently closed schools, churches, and laid off many employees. These actions have been taken in many diocese around the country - needed closures at least partly because of the millions wasted on lawsuits meant to re-victimize victims. Not surprising, he also blames the media - not himself and his brother bishops for the "scandal". He claims that the bishops handled the situation as well as they could. Many priests were unhappy with his leadership, and said so, so he demanded public apologies from priests who dared to speak out publicly. Is it surprising that he was described by his critics as "an angry and imperious boss"? He cleaned up a financial mess - as Sr. Walsh notes, he was a very good businessman, focused on the bottom line. And that is my major criticism of him when it comes to the abuse victims. As bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., in the 1990s, he was criticized, like many prelates, for moving abusive priests from parish to parish. His unique contribution to the controversy was a legal strategy he devised there, claiming — unsuccessfully — that the church had no legal liability for the abuse because priests were “independent contractors,” not employees (NYTimes, Feb 23, 2009) He devised a scheme whereby he hoped to have the diocese be off the hook for compensating victims by claiming that the very priests over whom he held absolute control in their assignments as priests, who had pledged total obedience to him as their ordinary, whom he refused to allow to speak openly unless they wished to risk their vocations as priests, were "independent contractors" over whom he had no control and so no financial responsibility towards the victims of priest abusers. This strategy, had it worked, was indeed willfull re-victimization. The strategy was very creative. But it was also very not-ethical and very not-moral. Fortunately, he didn't get away with it. There are plenty of sharp businessmen out there who are good at turning around financial messes in their companies. But the church has plenty of criticism for them if they are not ethical and not moral in handling these situations. Why do bishops let themselves off the hook? Why do some lay Catholics let them off the hook?
Martin Eble
2 years 7 months ago
The Hartford Courant in 2002 accused Edward Cardinal Egan of failing to investigate “aggressively” “some” abuse allegations, expressing belief that some allegations involved lying, and transferred priests from parish to parish. In 2015 it’s clear he investigated abuse allegations as most bishops did, that some allegations involved lying, and that transferring priests from parish to parish is the normal business of a bishop in his diocese. The reason why no bishops have been forced to resign for enabling the sexual abuse of the church's young people is that the evidence that they did so wilfully and knowingly is absent. The dioceses were obliged, and the ordinary people in the pews would be appalled had they not, to sort out real offenses from false ones and to determine the facts prior to writing any checks. And, of course, their insurance companies require due diligence as a condition of payments. I am sure he was described by his critics as "an angry and imperious boss" - most competent managers are by at least some of those they manage. If you believe the Cardinal himself devised “a legal strategy”, and not those lawyers you mention, you probably are giving him more credit than he deserves for legal acumen. Generally diocesan priests are paid by their parishes and so the relationship on its face is one of an independent contractor. The determination of whether they are in fact employees for any purpose, be it liability or taxes, is a question of facts and circumstances weighed by a competent authority. Had he started writing checks, sans due process, sans the insurance companies’ payments which would have been absent had he chosen to not defend allegations, based solely on allegations, I have the impression that we’d be hearing a diatribe about how he bankrupted the diocese, leaving the ordinary people in pews with no place to worship, and how “investigative” reporters from the Hartford Courant had determined that many of the claims were poppycock, and therefore the Cardinal was a defective human being unworthy of positive comment. Thank you for leaving out - so far - the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Pius XII and the Jews. .
Sandi Sinor
2 years 7 months ago
no bishops have been forced to resign for enabling the sexual abuse of the church's young people is that the evidence that they did so willfully and knowingly is absent Anyone who can make such a claim is ignorant, possibly, willfully ignorant of the facts. The evidence not only exists, it is overwhelming in many cases. There are archives and archives of original court documents that anyone can retrieve IF they really want to know the truth. Some do not. Some prefer their make-believe world, do not wish to take the time to read the court documents (not the reports in USA Today or the sanitized reports of Catholic groups, but the actual documents). Some prefer also not to examine their own consciences as to why they avoid the truth. They should reflect deeply on one potentially very serious matter - have they replaced God with an institution and its hierarchy? Egan may not have been among the worst of the worst in protecting priests (I didn't follow his case closely, but know that there were problems there), transferring them quietly from one parish to another, but he is most definitely guilty of attempting to use a legal strategy that would re-victimize those who were already victims. Perhaps the lawyers came up with the legal strategy - I don't know about that - but I do know that it was a baldfaced attempt to avoid responsibility and financial liability. It doesn't matter whose bright idea it was - Egan approved it. He could have said ;NO, it's wrong and we won't do it. But, that's not what he did, is it? I would not bring up the Crusades, the Inquisition or the horrendous crimes against the Jews that too often occurred because of the Church because obviously Egan had nothing to do with those particularly dark chapters in the history of the church. They happened, but not under his watch. The church has a lot to repent of for actions it took throughout its history, but Egan obviously wasn't part of them. He was part of the overall strategy of bishops and Rome to cover up priest crimes and he was part of the attempts to escape responsibility and culpability for those crimes, even to the point of repeating the pathetic excuse of so many in the hierarchy - "mistakes were made" as if those mistakes were made by alien forces instead of by those who were in charge - the bishops. They all acted as if they had nothing at all to do with those "mistakes" that involved hiding the crimes of those who molested and even raped thousands of young people. Some don't want to hear about their moral failures. Why not? Do the defend-the-bishps-at-any-cost Catholics ever ask themselves that? Why they are like those monkeys who see no evil? To repeat - this discussion started because I noted that while Egan showed empathy to the victims of 9/11, he failed to show empathy for the victims of Catholic priests, especially in approving a strategy of trying to escape any financial liability. What he did instead, is act like a businessmen. He cleaned up a financial mess. The legal strategy he approved was a business decision, made by a man focused on the bottom line rather than by someone who was supposed to be a "moral" teacher and pastor. The strategy he approved was totally indefensible from a moral standpoint. Thank goodness it wasn't defensible as a legal tactic either. I have learned on this site that there comes a point in discussions that nothing positive will happen. It's time to end this discussion. You will continue to defend what some, including me, consider indefensible behavior on the part of too many bishops. But some of us will not "let it go" until there is some sign of true repentance on the part of the hierarchy for the harm they permitted to be done due to a false sense of obedience to the pope and a false sense of "protecting" the church from scandal. Well, the scandal is far, far greater than it would have been if they had first done the right thing and not hidden crimes, and secondly, once the true extent of these crimes were known, come clean and accepted responsibility. As all know, the scandal is not that some priests abused some kids - that happens everywhere. The scandal is that to this day these men have refused to accept responsibility for what they did. There are dozens who should have resigned but did not. And the popes, including Francis, have failed as well, protecting their brother bishops rather than forcing resignations in at least the worst cases.
Martin Eble
2 years 7 months ago
“Anyone who can make such a claim is ignorant, possibly, willfully ignorant of the facts.” When you support that with an actual name, date, and circumstances, you won’t appear to be someone with an axe to grind who is ignorant - possibly willfully - of the facts. I am sure it is very painful to be in a Church filled with sinners who are less than perfect. And it must certainly be a joy to be possessed of perfect knowledge and the ability to read people’s souls. “He was part of the overall strategy of bishops and Rome to cover up priest crimes and he was part of the attempts to escape responsibility and culpability for those crimes” ..... you’ve certainly got the litany of unsupported allegations memorized well. If you only had some facts to go with them you could offer your services to counsel. “I have learned on this site that there comes a point in discussions that nothing positive will happen.” It seems to coincide with your entrance into the conversation.

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