NEW YORK — 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, who retired in 2009 after nine years as archbishop, 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. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current archbishop of New York, asked for prayers for Egan and for his family. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Egan "was a generous man who committed his life to serving others."
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 cut spending and laid 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, after a call from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, 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 criticized when he later left the still-grieving city for a Vatican synod, a month-long international meeting of bishops convened by the pope. Egan, who was to work as an aide to John Paul there, said he asked repeatedly for permission to stay in New York, but the pope said Egan was needed in Rome. In a 2011 interview with The Associated Press, 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. He was derided by critics as cold and distant.
In 2002, at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis that engulfed the entire 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.
A native of Oak Park, Illinois, Egan earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, then completed studies for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and was ordained there in 1957. He eventually earned a doctorate. Egan first 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, Connecticut.