Cardinal Egan’s two statements on abortion draw waves of kudos

Why do I get the feeling that if and when Cardinal Egan does retire, his two, strong anti-abortion statements of 2008 will go down as a large part of his public legacy?

For years, observers of all kinds noted Egan’s reticence to speak out in the public square. At first, many thought he was reluctant to try to follow Cardinal O’Connor, a master of the ages at both sound bites and all-out speeches. In recent years, I’ve heard many people say that Egan was cutting himself off from the public square because he could not get past his deep distrust of the mainstream media.

tjndc5-5b531olhqk315wbdl7p4_layout.jpgIt’s true that Egan often writes with zest in Catholic New York and that he speaks often on The Catholic Channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio. But his audience is limited.

I don’t know how many times over the year I’ve heard Catholic laypeople wonder what the archbishop of New York was up to.

Then came 2008. In April, pro-choice Rudy Giuliani received the Eucharist at a papal Mass at St. Patrick’s Catheral.

And Egan hammered him — releasing an out-of-the-blue statement that included: “I had an understanding with Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion. I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the Papal visit here in New York…”

The Catholic blogosphere went nuts, with orthodox/conservative/devoutly pro-life Catholics hailing Egan as a hero. For weeks, bloggers continued to hold up Egan’s statement as an example of how a cardinal/archbishop is supposed to act.

Then, this past Sunday, Nancy Pelosi went on “Meet the Press” and tried to explain her pro-choice position, in part, by contending that Catholic teachings on abortion were once unclear.

After Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput took some opening shots at Pelosi, Egan let absolutely loose:

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons.

And the blogosphere has again gone crazy!

One blogger wrote: “If you compare the statements of Cardinal Rigali, Bishop Lori, Archbishop Chaput, and Archbishop Wuerl to Cardinal Egan’s, the latter has the tone of someone who has “had it” with the hubris of pro-abortion politicians.”

Another: “Cardinal Egan’s judgment of Nandy Pelosi’s farce about the church’s teaching on abortion is unusually and refreshingly blunt. Bravo for him.”

Still another blogger opens with “Did I just hear Cardinal Egan change the abortion debate?” and then goes on to say: “Game, set and match to the pro-life crowd. Cardinal Egan just pulled a reverse of the Scopes Monkey trials. He demonstrated that scientific proof was on the side of the Bible, but knowing he was speaking to a lot of folks who put no credence in the scriptures, he avoided even bringing them into the conversation.”

Strong praise, indeed.

And, yes, Egan is drawing comparisons to none other than…John O’Connor.

One blogger wrote: “This is like the good old days; a New York City Cardinal telling a CINO (Catholic in Name Only) she must recant her pro-abortion position! It reminds me of Cardinal John O’Connor and Geraldine Ferraro and Mario Cuomo. Well done, Cardinal Egan!”

And the RedState blog went with this headline: “Cardinal Egan channels Cardinal O’Connor, and lays the smackdown on Nancy Pelosi.”

When all is said and done, some Catholics — not all, but some — may remember Egan as Cardinal Smackdown.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.