Cardinal Egan and the Media
In its extensive coverage of the appointment of Archbishop Timothy Dolan to head the New York archdiocese, the New York Times takes note of the departing Cardinal Edward Egan’s complaint that the news media distorted his public image:
Cardinal Egan blames the media for what he considers major distortions of his image: portraying him as a cool administrator rather than a passionate pastor who visited almost every one of the hundreds of churches and schools in the archdiocese, and casting him as a villain in the sex abuse scandal, which he believes American bishops handled as well as they could.
Back in 2001, when I was the religion writer for Newsday, I wrote an article that was critical of Egan’s tenure in New York as he approached the first anniversary of his service in the archdiocese. For months afterward, whenever I heard Egan speak, he always took jabs at his critics in the media.
So I would like to respond that from the first, Egan’s true critics were not “the media”; they were people who work in the church – lay people, clergy and religious. As I wrote back then: “from within the archdiocesan offices and parishes, there comes a rumble of complaints from loyal Catholics, some whom have worked many years for the church” – a sentence based on many interviews beyond those detailed in the article.
While reporting the article, I decided to go see Egan in a pastoral setting in one of his parish visits. He treated a group from a neighboring South Bronx parish, St. Jerome’s — poor people who meekly asked him to visit their parish to see that it was worth saving – with extraordinary rudeness. Clearly annoyed, he kept refusing to discuss the subject.
His response was so inappropriate that one South Bronx pastor stood next to Egan before the church sanctuary and “with all due respect,” told the cardinal: “I know that an important part of being pastor is listening … A lot of us here would like to know what St. Jerome’s has to say.” Egan did not take the hint. He responded: “I’d like to get on to another subject.” Later that evening, the pastor of St. Jerome’s returned to his church with his parishioners and told them from the pulpit: “The bishop wouldn’t listen to us and he wouldn’t let people speak and that’s bad.” (Egan later found donations to rebuild and keep St. Jerome’s.)
When Egan was named archbishop of New York, there was a mountain of positive, almost entirely uncritical media coverage – a rather forced tone of celebration, in retrospect. The same occurred when he was created a cardinal. If he leaves the chancery with a negative public image, it’s largely because he alienated his own people.