Cardinal Edward M. Egan, a stern defender of Roman Catholic orthodoxy who presided over the Archdiocese of New York for nine years in an era of troubled finances, changing demographics and a priesthood of dwindling, aging ranks shaken by sexual-abuse scandals, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 82.
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said Cardinal Egan died of cardiac arrest at NYU Langone Medical Center.
As archbishop of New York from 2000 to 2009 — spiritual head of a realm of 2.7 million parishioners, an archipelago of 368 parishes and a majestic seat at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan — the cardinal was one of America’s most visible Catholic leaders, invoking prayers for justice when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, and escorting Pope Benedict XVI on his historic visit to the city in April 2008.
A year later, the pope appointed Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of Milwaukee to replace Cardinal Egan, concluding a tenure that had not been popular with many Catholics but had come to grips with hard decisions on church finances and walked the line of church doctrine against winds of change.
A month before retiring, however, Cardinal Egan seemed to soften his stance on the centuries-old requirement of priestly celibacy by suggesting that the church would someday have to consider allowing priests to marry — a topic that has been much discussed since the election of Pope Francis.
“It’s a perfectly legitimate discussion,” Cardinal Egan said on an Albany radio station, adding: “I think it has to be looked at. And I am not so sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to decide on the basis of geography and culture not to make an across-the-board determination.”
Along with his elevation to the College of Cardinals in 2001, his appointment by Pope John Paul II to lead the Archdiocese of New York — to many the most prominent Catholic pulpit in the nation — crowned a career of more than five decades in his church. Nearly half of it was spent in Rome as a student, teacher, canon lawyer and ecclesiastical judge, and much of the rest in the senior ranks of the church in America.
Aside from a year as a young priest in a Chicago cathedral, he had always been on an executive track. He was secretary to Cardinal Albert G. Meyer of Chicago in the 1950s; a protégé of Cardinal John Patrick Cody of Chicago in the 1960s; after his extended sojourns in Rome, an auxiliary bishop in New York; and for 12 years the bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., where he was groomed for the New York post.
From a childhood racked by polio to golden years of study in Rome, from struggles over failing schools and pedophile priests to his triumphal investiture at St. Patrick’s, Cardinal Egan climbed to success with an iron will, unswerving fidelity to Catholic dogmas and extraordinary skills as an organizer, a fund-raiser and an administrator. Admirers compared him to a Fortune 500 C.E.O.
He was strikingly unlike his predecessor, Cardinal John J. O’Connor, a gregarious, earthy and blunt man who enjoyed repartee at political dinners and the hullabaloo of St. Patrick’s Day parades, disliked budget details and was loath to close even underused schools and churches.
Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story Cardinal Egan was distant, cautious and measured, fluent in Italian, French, Spanish and Latin, a player of classical piano who read physics, did not hobnob with politicians more than necessary and could make tough, unpopular decisions.
His tenure in New York had mixed reviews. His priority was to restore financial stability to the deficit-ridden archdiocese, and he did it by closing or merging parishes and schools and by raising millions from corporations and wealthy laymen. But he also drew bitter complaints from affected parishioners and priests. He tried to recruit more priests, but with little success.
And as the sexual-abuse scandal widened, he tried to protect the church from liability. In Bridgeport, he was accused of withholding information about accused priests and moving some from parish to parish. In New York, he gave prosecutors files on accused priests, but critics said he was slow and reluctant to act.
Some parishioners and priests, many hurt by his decisions, called him chilly and imperious. In his zeal to close budget gaps, forestall lawsuits or enforce Vatican codas, they said, he lacked a pastoral touch. Critics said he brooked little dissent, once even calling the police to oust protesters from a church.
His fidelity to church teachings led to conflicts with national leaders and even church institutions. He scolded former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York for receiving communion during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to New York in 2008 because Mr. Giuliani supported abortion rights, and he rebuked Fordham University Law School later for giving an award to another abortion-rights supporter, Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the United States Supreme Court.
Cardinal Egan distrusted the news media and rarely gave interviews. But he reached out to constituents, visiting parishes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers and other institutions. He wrote columns for Catholic publications, hosted a weekly satellite radio program on church affairs, and delivered stentorian lessons from the pulpit on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, priestly celibacy and other matters. (It was unclear whether his last remarks on priestly celibacy represented a crack in discipline or a parting gift to reformers; in any case, they renewed a spirited debate on an issue central to a dwindling priesthood.)
And he believed he accomplished what he had set out to do. “When I came here, I told everyone what I would do, and quite frankly I did it,” the cardinal said in a 2007 interview with The New York Times. “I had to deal with the sex scandal, and I did. I had to realign, and I did. I wanted peace in my diocese, and it’s peaceful.”
He smiled — it was more flint than mirth — and added: “It’s all been a colossal success.”