Eyes on Egan in New York

Article excerpt

New archbishop is two parts amiability to three parts no-nonsense

New Yorkers for the next few months have a new sport: archbishop watching. In two days of ceremonies at St. Patrick's Cathedral June 18 and 19, Archbishop Edward Michael Egan, formerly bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., took charge of the New York archdiocese.

He has an episcopal motto from St. Paul ("In the Holiness of Truth") and a stentorian professorial voice obviously modulated long ago to penetrate seminarians' reveries.

He is a penetrating speaker, but not a rousing one.

In closing remarks, Egan included in his thanks-for-coming the local political glitterati, who had sat through two days of bottom-numbing, wooden pew-sitting obeisance. His thanks, The New York Times noted, did not include New York senatorial candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton by name but did mention Catholic Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose blatant unfaithfulness to his wife apparently gets the archbishop's blind eye.

Two parts amiability to three parts no-nonsense, Egan arrived in New York with a reputation for being cool toward gays, unions, nuns expecting open dialogue and with no particular fondness for reformist aspirations of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Egan now plays to two audiences: the Big Apple socio-politico-arts crowd, and the Catholic crowd. Egan's a cosmopolitan fellow with a nice touch for getting into the wallets of the moneyed power (a task his predecessor Cardinal John O'Connor admitted he hated). But Egan also did a crash course in Bridgeport to bring his Spanish up to snuff -- and that's the native language of 36 percent of the archdiocese's Catholics.

In a city that in two centuries has had only one non-Irish-American bishop, Bishop John Dubois, 1828-1842), Egan could well be the last of New York's Irish-American ordinaries. Rome in time will have to acknowledge the rise of the new ethnics.

How will Egan do -- short-term?

On the political front, NCR's Manhattan cognoscenti friends compiled a working list for gauging how steely is the new hand inside New York's episcopal velvet glove:

1. Watch for the two Als, Al Smith and Al Sharpton. Will Egan invite President Clinton to the bishop's New York Catholic bash -- the October Al Smith dinner? To invite the president had been the precedent. O'Connor never did. And the next time a white cop shoots a black kid, who will Egan embrace, who will he keep at a distance? How will he handle the radical black community, personified by motor mouth egocentric Al Sharpton? …