Apr 13, 2009

Cardinal Egan's Swan Song

As Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan hads to the big apple to take the reigns of Gotham's Archdiocesan seat, NYers bade farewell to the man who NYers never really fell in love with but who did a lot of hidden work that went unseen.

Edward Cardinal Egan inherited a nightmare of a financial disaster at the land of 1011 (1011 First Avenue is the address of the Archdiocesan Offices). While Cardinal John O'Connor was clearly a statesman and a pastor for NYC, he was hardly a financier. 20 million in hock, Egan was sent in to clean it up with promises of retiring to a nice spot in Rome somewhere--a place where he seems much more comfortable than in the Metropolitan area.

Egan was no-nonsense in restructuring things and doing so admid the sex abuse scandal and a political climate that made him look like a villain when he closed a school or a parish. During the sex scandal his own mistakes in the Diocese of Bridgeport haunted the papers and even had some question the cardinal's own sexuality.

His biggest mistake was leaving NY after 9-11 for some meetings and not being as visible as he could as NY's pastoral leader during the time of crisis. "O'Connor would've grabbed a shovel with rescue workers and stayed there all day if he needed to." a colleague once remarked. He may have been right--but that was not Cardinal Egan's style.

He lacked the simple grace and lunchpail attitude of his predecessor, but at the same time he had vision that enabled him to see the long sure future for an Archdiocese that needed to get its house in order. In short, Egan did what he was asked to do.

While his voice often sounded aristocratic when preaching it did not when speaking with him personally, which made me think that he often tried too hard in creating a public persona. An old colleague at the newspapers told me he came into the newsroom one day lit up a cigar and started talking and had the whole place in stitches. One on one Egan could indeed be charming--in crowds he seemed aloof and nervous--a tough spot for a public cleric.

One thing that has gone quite unnoticed by nearly everyone...Cardinal Egan started The Catholic Channel on Sirus-XM Radio. In an age when many clerics are lambasting technology, Egan embraced it and what's more was open to listening to professionals in the business tell him how the station should sound and he stayed committed to not making a radio version of EWTN but to employ a more colloquial style, using a lot of humor and fun as opposed to sappy or overtly pious programming. Egan should get some of the credit for being an early adopter here.

Archbishop Dolan will inherit a sound house that indeed will be a fitting tribute to his predecessor. Although Dolan appears to be more of a pastor who can motivate his priests, Egan never claimed that role--and for that matter neither did the Holy Father when he assigned him to NY. He was here pure and simple to be an administrator. And while his public persona was not well-liked, NY does owe a debt of gratitude to the Cardinal for what he has done.

I pray today that he may indeed enjoy his retirement. While his health is not good, perhaps the pressure of the job wore him out and taking it easy in the coming years will add back a few rolls of the odometer?

A small dig: I always thought his preaching voice sounded a bit like Kermit the Frog. You be the judge:

But as Kermit would tell you it's not easy being green...and it's even harder to be red. Thanks, your eminence and blessings on your retirement.

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