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Cardinal Edward Egan dies at 82; former archbishop of New York

Former archbishop of New York Edward Egan dies at 82

Cardinal Edward Egan, the former archbishop of New York who oversaw a broad and sometimes unpopular financial overhaul of the archdiocese and played a prominent role in the city after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, died Thursday. He was 82.

Egan died of cardiac arrest at a New York hospital, the archdiocese announced. As a child he survived polio, which affected his health as an adult, and he also used a pacemaker.

Egan retired in 2009 after nine years as archbishop and was replaced by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

In 2000, Egan was chosen by Pope John Paul II for the difficult job of succeeding larger-than-life Cardinal John O'Connor, who was a major figure not only in the city, but in the country. From him, Egan inherited an annual deficit of about $20 million. Egan was forced to make tough decisions to cut spending — including laying off staff — and said he wiped out the shortfall within two years.

Yet, Egan bristled at the suggestion that he was more a manager than shepherd. In a 2001 interview with the New York Times, he said, "I am about, first and foremost, serving 413 communities of faith," he said, referring to the archdiocese's parishes.

On Sept. 11, then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called Egan for help, and the cardinal spent the day anointing the dead, distributing rosaries to workers as they searched, mostly in vain, for survivors. Egan later presided over funerals for the victims, sometimes three a day.

The cardinal was the target of criticism when he left the grieving city for a Vatican synod, a monthlong international meeting of bishops convened by the pope. Egan, who was to work as an aide to John Paul in leading the meeting, said he asked repeatedly for permission to stay in New York, but the pope said Egan was needed in Rome. The cardinal called that time, when his loyalty to the city was questioned, "the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life."

Egan was a tall, imposing man with a voice so deep that his nieces joked he sounded like Darth Vader. He was known for his love of classical music, bringing a piano to the archbishop's residence in New York. Soprano Renee Fleming sang at his installation in 2000 in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

But unlike many previous New York archbishops, Egan did not embrace the chance for a large public presence in New York. He rarely gave news interviews and was derided by critics as cold and distant.

In 2002, at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis that engulfed the American church, Egan wrote a letter to parishioners apologizing for any mistakes in responding to victims and stopping abusers. But a decade later, the cardinal told Connecticut magazine, “I should never have said that. I did say if we did anything wrong, I'm sorry, but I don't think we did anything wrong.” In 2003, Egan snubbed members of a high-profile board the U.S. bishops appointed to oversee their child protection reforms, refusing to celebrate Mass for them when they visited New York and barring them from a Catholic fraternal event.

An expert in church law and fluent in Latin, Egan served on the Roman Rota, a tribunal of Vatican judges who hear appeals in church law cases, such as marriage annulments. He was one of just a few experts chosen by John Paul to help with the massive job of reviewing the revised Code of Canon Law for the global church.

Egan was born April 2, 1932, in Oak Park, Ill. He decided early on to become a priest, entering a junior seminary for young men, then earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill. He completed studies for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, considered the West Point for U.S. priests, and was ordained there in 1957.

He received a theology degree at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, then his doctorate.

Egan became a U.S. bishop in 1985, starting as an auxiliary bishop in the New York archdiocese when O'Connor was the leader. Three years later, Egan was named to head the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.

Zoll writes for the Associated Press.

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