Thursday, December 28, 2006

Egan On... Everything

Christmas is always high season for the archbishop of New York, and as he marked what could be his final one in the post, Cardinal Edward M. Egan stepped before the cameras, both to fulfill some annual traditions and for an extended interview with WABC that ran on Christmas Eve.

Despite penning a lengthy response two months back in Catholic New York in the wake of October's anonymous letter calling for a vote of no confidence in his leadership of the US' most influential local church, as they're wont to do the New York press viewed Egan's recent media spree as his first public reaction to the document.

In the Sunday interview with WABC's Diana Williams -- available both on video and in podcast form -- questions about the letter and the cardinal's 75th birthday on 2 April took center stage.

Saying that his health is "better than ever" following a September knee replacement, Egan appears headed to be the first archbishop of New York to leave office after reaching the canonical age-limit. However, he quipped to WCBS last week that "if I'm here till 150 years old, you'll just have to put up with me, eh?"

Here are some snips of the ABC session, transcribed by your narrator:

On the prospect of retirement: "When I was ordained, I made a promise to myself... I would ask for nothing, and I'd refuse nothing. I'd never do anything to have an appointment or an assignment -- whatever came, came. And whenever they wanted me to stop what I was doing, I'd stop. I've lived that way for 49 years [of priesthood], and I intend to continue living that way. Whatever happens, happens, and I am delighted with any decision that's made."

Retiring to France?: "Well, who'd want to leave New York? Now, first of all, it'd be nice to visit France every so often, but you want to stay in the capital of the world. I think that if I retired I would, maybe, take a little trip and have a little, uh, relaxation but, ultimately, sure, I would want to be back in New York. And then I could do some of the things that every bishop does -- I wouldn't have to be facing all of the paperwork and all of this kind of thing, you know. So if the Lord were to give me some extra years, I would, I hope, take a little 'R&R,' as they say, and then after that see if the New Yorkers let me back to do some confirmations and get around to the diocese, and I would love to do it that way.

On the letter: "My own guess is that this was written by a layman. I know no priest that was involved in anything like this, and the language is such that it doesn't sound like it doesn't come from a priest....

"I feel that anyone reading the language of the letter would say it was not written by a clergyman. But that's allright, whoever wrote it makes no difference. But the news media did everything they could to make it be something important."

On the mood among his priests: "I think they're quite satisfied. But we say 'no one is a good judge in his own case.' But I believe we have as fine a situation in the archdiocese of New York as we've had in the many years of its long history.... I believe anyone can put out a letter. Someone can put out a letter about Diana Williams, ask some newspaper to publish it, and then you'd be put on the defensive, eh? And you'd have to say, 'Diana is not a very nice person,' 'But I am a nice person.' Well, when you start that, 'I am a nice person,' you really are kind of damaging yourself....

"[I]t was one anonymous letter, sent to a blog, that's what it was. Not even in New York. And the newspapers and the television made a lot out of it, eh? But I believe we handled it very well, and I believe that the priests were wonderful about it and I think that, uh -- I want to put it behind me."

Biggest Accomplishment in New York?: "Well, I always think my biggest acomplishment as a bishop and as a priest is to lead the people in prayer. I would never think that anything I could do in any other effort would be equal to that."

Biggest Regret?: "We have not had the growth in vocations we've had to the priesthood and to the religious life... [I]f you match us with other dioceses, our growth is quite good, but it's nothing near what we need -- we have almost 400 parishes, almost 300 schools, and so forth, I could go on and on.... It would be the greatest possible grace, and I would hope that all your listeners who're Catholic will pray for me, and with me that vocations will grow."

How would Egan like to be remembered?: "Well, I hope [New Yorkers] remember me as one of the archbishops of New York, who came here because he was assigned to come here, and worked as hard as he could to proclaim the Gospel, to see to it that the sacramental life of the church was available, and to announce the Gospel of charity and justice. in t Pope Benedict XVI says very explicitly toward the end, 'the purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel,' eh?, 'to lead in prayer and to announce justice and charity.' And if, in the providence of God, I were lucky enough to have someone say 'That's what Cardinal Egan did, or at least tried to do,' I would consider my years here a tremendous grace. But I'll tell you, Diana, I already consider them a tremendous grace."

A message to his priests?: "I think the priests know that I am 100% with them in everything, and I've done everything I could to get that story out.... I'm with the priests all the time. And I would say to the priests that they can just look at these six and a half years and see that I'm 100% one of them and I'm very proud to be a priest of the archdiocese of New York. And I'm very proud of them, and what they've done."

The Ninth Archbishop's memories of New York?: "I have such great memories of New York -- St Patrick's Cathedral, of course. You can never forget St Patrick's Cathedral. I'll never forget 9/11. I was there everyday, until the funerals started, and I did as many as three funerals in one day; I did two many days.... I think the scars are still there in the hearts of many of us. But I know that I look back and I see in my mind's eye the police officers of this town, the firemen and women of this town -- firefighters, as we like to say -- the emergency workers, the health-care professionals. And I can tell you story after story that ought to be on television, ought to be on radio, ought to be in our newspapers of such heroism, such goodness, such decency, such courage.

"Msgr Mustaciuolo, my secretary, and I stood there when the two men came up out of the ground, you know? I had just blessed a body in a plastic bag down there at Ground Zero, and as we all stood there there were a group of firefighters and as they all began to clap as these men came up. And it's such an experience of courage and decency and strength that you couldn't help but be touched, with all this dust going around and a dead body in front of us. So I'll never forget 9/11."

Jim Tynan/9/11 Digital Archive