The Vatican's 'Dream Man': The Pope's New Representative in New York Has a Different Style Than His Predecessorand an Uneasy History with Him

Article excerpt

When ailing Cardinal John O'Connor visited the pope last February, he didn't come just to say goodbye. Though both men knew it would likely be the last time they'd see each other, there was business to discuss: who would succeed O'Connor as Archbishop of New York. In their 15 minutes together, O'Connor lobbied hard for one of his own proteges from New York--reportedly, Bishop Henry Mansell of Buffalo. But John Paul II had already made his own choice. And so, just two days after O'Connor was buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral last week, the pope announced what by then had become an open secret. Bishop Edward M. Egan of Bridgeport, Conn., will be the new Archbishop of New York.

It was not the first time that Egan, a native of Chicago and veteran Vatican official, had been thrust upon an unwilling O'Connor. In 1985, when John Paul II decided to make Egan a bishop, he had some difficulty placing him in a diocese. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin did not want Egan back in Chicago, where he had previously served as secretary to Bernardin's predecessor, Cardinal John Cody. Cody's last years were riddled with scandal, and Bernardin thought it best not to have an auxiliary bishop who, though innocent himself, might be a reminder of bygone problems. So the pope made Egan an auxiliary bishop in New York--despite the objections of O'Connor, who wanted to promote one of his own men. Egan, now 68, served a little more than three years as O'Connor's vicar of education. During that time, the cardinal made his vicar the chief negotiator with the Roman Catholic teachers unions--a job that is normally relegated to an official of lesser rank. While Egan bargained in earnest at the table, the cardinal dined with the union leaders and--unbeknown to Egan--gave away the store. "We all knew that O'Connor was a conservative who loved labor unions," says one priest who was privy to the negotiation process. "But this was shocking. He hung his own auxiliary bishop out to dry."

If Egan still has bruises from his first turn in New York, he hasn't let them show. In his first meeting with the media, Egan not only praised his predecessor but echoed him as well. He replied in flawless Spanish to two reporters and in elegant Italian to a third. He dismissed the notion of condom distribution in public schools as a "failed" experiment and signaled his support for parental "choice" in education.

Tall and at ease in the spotlight, Egan has a resume with "red hat" written all over it. …