Thursday, January 04, 2007

Egan: "John Carroll Got It Right"

At Sunday's 10.15 Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral, alongside the traditional Epiphany Proclamation of the dates of the calendar, the archdiocese of New York's bicentennial celebration will be formally announced.

Starting on Easter Sunday, 8 April, the yearlong program of Masses, gatherings, publications and cultural events will conclude 364 days later, 200 years exactly from the founding of the dioceses of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Bardstown (now Louisville) by Pope Pius VII. Simultaneously, the diocese of Baltimore, which for 19 years had been America's lone see, was elevated to metropolitan rank, as a cousin of a signer of the Declaration of Independence became the first of his countrymen to receive the pallium.

Anticipating the formal indiction of his leg of the observances and closing out his yearly Christmas media tour, the archbishop of the "Capital of the World" Cardinal Edward Egan sat for a headline-making interview with New York's WNBC, scheduled to air Sunday morning. A transcript of the half-hour "News Forum" with reporter David Ushery was obtained by Whispers in advance of the broadcast.

Ushery's lines of questioning, and Egan's comfort and candor in tackling contentious issues such as the role of Catholics in the political sphere, the Iraq war and the impending reconfiguration of the archdiocese shine through in the text. The cardinal was significantly more outspoken in the session taped today than in his pre-Christmas interview with WABC's Diana Williams. That's likely due to the 74 year-old prelate's particular regard for Ushery, and their interaction makes for quite the read.

Midway through the sit-down, Ushery raised the question of "some viable candidates here in New York" as the 2008 presidential race comes into focus, citing by name Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat, and former New York city mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican. Both are pro-choice and, if recent history's any indicator, Giuliani's affirmative stance on gay rights, including same-sex marriage -- and his status as a Catholic divorced and remarried outside the church -- could pose difficulties with Evangelicals and conservative Catholics in next year's GOP primaries.

"How would you come down on" Giuliani or Clinton "if you had to?" Ushery asked.

Seemingly without a flinch, Egan replied, "They're all friends of mine."

To reiterate the point, the cardinal himself mentioned former New York Gov. George Pataki, a Republican who's also a pro-choice Catholic, as a "friend." On New Year's Day, after 12 years in the state's top office, Pataki surrendered the governorship to Democrat Eliot Spitzer, the former attorney general. In the wake of his landslide November victory, Spitzer -- who made his name by investigating Wall Street and represents a renaissance of the Democratic left -- is already being viewed, in time, as the first viable Jewish candidate for the presidency.

"Mayor Giuliani's a friend of mine, Senator Clinton is a friend of mine and whomever else you want to name," Egan said. "And I've been very, very careful, I hope you notice. Never have I got into partisan politics of any kind at all."

Citing the bicentennial's context to reiterate his point further, and as debate over the church's role in politics and policy attracts fierce reactions from both sides in the US and beyond, the cardinal lauded the approach of the first American bishop, who later became the first American archbishop.

John Carroll, Egan said, "made it very clear that once he got himself into a political situation and years later he said how he regretted doing that, that his job was to preach the gospel, to celebrate the liturgy and to do the works of charity and justice.

"And I belive [sic] that John Carroll got it right," he continued. "And so, no, don't ever expect me to be involved in partisan politics." Referring again to Clinton, Giuliani and Pataki, Egan said that "I think I'm a good friend of all three of these people, whom you've mentioned or whom I've mentioned. And I wish them all the best, and they've been very good to us. And I will vote, I assure you, right here in the New York, and that will be one vote. I won't ask you to vote the way I think you ought to vote."

Concluding the interview with the US' prosecution of the Iraq war, the cardinal told Ushery that he's "very hesitant to speak about the war for fear it sounds as though you're not supporting the women and men over there that are in harm's way." He also noted that he's attended each funeral of each service member from the archdiocese who died in the line of duty.

"And you never hear that on television, do you?" Egan mused. "Isn't that strange." Despite his admitted reticence, though, he did voice his mind on the conflict, saying that, "It concerns me greatly."

"I think we have to keep in mind who's fighting this war," the New York prelate continued. "And I feel that my commitment to the men and women in the armed forces has no limit. I pray for them every day. In fact, if you listen on my Mass, I always start out with a prayer for peace in the introduction, and I mention the armed forces." As for the proposal to contain the fighting by the addition of US troops, Egan said that "My gut feeling is that this is not the way to go."

"This is a tragedy what's happened," he said of Iraq, "and no war is going to solve any problems." "We just had the feast of the Prince of Peace at Christmas," the cardinal went on, "And a large majority of the people of this nation are Christian, dedicated to the message of the Prince of Peace."

"I would love to see our people praying every day to put an end to all war and to make us a nation known throughout the world as a pursuer of peace," Egan said.

October's anonymous letter attributed to a "Committee of Concerned Clergy" was briefly touched upon, its first mention made not by Ushery, but by the cardinal. Repeating his belief that its authorship derives from "maybe a layman," Egan lamented how "the news media in New York obsessed on it for a week. And they even bring it up again in Newsweek a month later and so forth.

"I regret that it was treated that way," he continued. "I don't think that that kind of thing would've been treated that way for any other institution. Maybe I'm wrong. But even that's behind us." The cardinal-archbishop said his relationship with his presbyterate is "very good. I'm delighted with the relationship with the priests, and I think that the way they reacted to the letter that everybody wants to talk about is a very good indication of how good they are."

On his mandatory letter of resignation, due at his 75th birthday in early April, Egan said that "I have no inside information." When he meets with Pope Benedict next week in Rome, the cardinal said that "one of the things I will not bring up is that I'll be 75 in April. Now, if he wants to bring it up, it's great. And whatever he decides, that's fine." When asked if the pontiff might seek his service in Rome after relieving him of the Big Apple, the cardinal answered with one word: "No."

The financial state of the archdiocese provided a significant thread to the interview, with the cardinal asking that his record of cleaning up its books be viewed within a wider context.

"There's so much emphasis put on the fact that we had financial problems and that we resolved them," Egan observed. "That's a small part of what needed to be done and what is being done, eh? That's well taken care of. Within two years, we have a balanced budget. We've never had anything but a surplus ever since, and we're going to do fine. But, please don't say that as--that is something that you were sent to do. Sure, it's part of what I was sent to do. And I like to think that I was sent to do, first and foremost, leading people in prayer, preaching the gospel, and doing the works of charity. That's what I'd like to think I was sent to do."

As for the continuing reconfiguration of the archdiocese, the cardinal announced that an announcement of "what we've decided up to now" will come later this month. While most of its major moves have been "pretty much announced," among the plans in the offing is the erection of 11 new parishes for the more than 2.5 million Catholics of the archdiocese's three boroughs and seven counties.