Friday, April 03, 2009

Fight to the Finish

Over his nine years as the church's top man in the "capital of the world," it's no secret that Cardinal Edward Egan hasn't exactly had a love affair with the New York press.

Oft-portrayed in the papers as lavish, vicious and aloof, the departing Gotham archbishop continued his transition-long chiding of the city's media yesterday in his farewell appearance on one of his marquee projects: Sirius XM Radio's The Catholic Channel, which the archdiocese launched with the satellite provider in 2006.
In jocular, yet pointed remarks, [Egan] said that he would not, in fact, retire to a penthouse apartment in Paris; that he did not play Mozart sonatas for friends on the baby grand at his residence behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral; that he does not dine frequently at “Upper East Side gourmet eateries”; and that he was not against continuing the rule of celibacy for priests.

All these things had been written about him in the recent cascade of articles in New York newspapers and magazines marking his pending retirement as archbishop of New York, and all were incorrect, he said. But he did concede at various other points in the hourlong show, “A Conversation With the Cardinal” on Sirius’s Catholic Channel, that he loves to play the piano. And that he might have become a concert pianist if he had not become a priest.

And that he does love Paris. “Somebody wrote that I have this wonderful penthouse apartment in Paris, but don’t you know — nobody will tell me the address. I only wish I knew!”...

At a crowded table in a glass-enclosed studio in Midtown Manhattan (with Howard Stern’s ubiquitous portrait looking on, Kim Jong-Il-like, from everywhere), the cardinal was surrounded Thursday and thanked profusely by the hosts of the dozen shows that have begun on Sirius’s dedicated Catholic Channel as a result of that agreement.

They praised him for having the guts to take a chance — for letting them do shows that were not “stained-glass Catholic radio,” as one manager described the usual fare of religious broadcasting, but instead were a mix of programming that edges closer to the talk-radio format.

While Cardinal Egan seemed to revel in the warmth, he returned repeatedly to his record-straightening theme. He missed few opportunities to explicate his poor opinion of the mainstream media.

When the show’s host, Rob Astorino, recalled finding the cardinal “a pretty nice guy” upon their first meeting, the cardinal warned, “Oh, God, if The New York Times and The Daily News find out you’re saying that, you’re liable to lose your position in the journalistic community.”

In fact, in large measure, the reason he was willing to take a chance on the Catholic Channel was the opportunity it presented to end-run what he considered the untrustworthy and generally anti-Catholic press, the cardinal said.

“I live in a town where the media are not friendly,” he said. “They feel that they are going to be important only to the extent that they pull down not only ourselves, but any other institution that seems to have some standing. So I think it’s important to talk over the media.” It is the mission of the Catholic Channel, he said, “to say what the nation has to hear. To say what is basically decent, what is basically right.”

At the end of the hour, the radio staff presented the cardinal with a birthday cake; Thursday was his 77th birthday. (His successor, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, 59, of Milwaukee, will take over his chair for “A Conversation With the Cardinal” at the end of the month.)

Playing on Cardinal Egan’s lament, Mr. Astorino gestured at the cake and said: “In honor of your Parisian apartment. Let them eat cake!”

The cardinal replied in French. A reporter who does not speak French later asked him what he had said.

“I said, ‘Let’s eat cake.’ ”

Then he added, “You thought I had said, ‘Let them eat cake,’ didn’t you?”

Shaking his head and walking away, he said to an aide: “Can you imagine that? ‘Let them eat cake.’ They would actually have put that in the newspaper. ... Oh, my.”
At Tuesday's press briefing for the installation of Egan's successor, archdiocesan spokesman Joe Zwilling said that most of the cardinal's effects had already been moved to his new residence -- a new apartment alongside a former church in the city's "Bedpan Alley," where the archbishop-emeritus plans to serve as a chaplain to the local Francophone community.

Served loyally through his entire tenure by his priest-secretary, Msgr Gregory Mustaciuolo -- who first came to the position in the later O'Connor years -- the first Big Apple prelate to "get out alive" is going aideless in his retirement; Archbishop Timothy Dolan will inherit the Staten Island-born lawyer dubbed the "prime minister" of the Gotham church.

The longest-tenured resident of 452 Madison, Mustaciuolo is reportedly staying on until summer's end at Dolan's request, at which point most reports have him headed due Near East.

PHOTO: Eirini Vourloumis/
The New York Times