John Joseph O'Connor

infobox cardinalbiog
name = John Joseph Cardinal O'Connor

See = New York
Title = Cardinal Archbishop of New York
Period = 26 January 1984 – 3 May 2000
cardinal = 25 May 1985
Predecessor = Terence Cardinal Cooke
Successor = Edward Cardinal Egan
post = Bishop of Scranton
date of birth = birth date|1920|1|15|df=y
date of death = death date and age|2000|5|3|1920|1|15|df=y
place of birth = Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
infobox cardinalstyles
cardinal name=Cardinal John O'Connor
dipstyle=His Eminence
offstyle=Your Eminence
See=New York (emeritus)|
:"For the former US Representative from New York, see John J. O'Connor.":"For the deceased bishop of Newark, see J. J. O'Connor of Newark."

John Joseph Cardinal O'Connor, (January 15, 1920 – May 3, 2000) was the eleventh bishop (eighth archbishop) of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, serving from 1984 until his death in 2000. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1985.


O'Connor was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a family of Irish descent, and after studying at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary he was ordained a priest on 15 December 1945. He was initially assigned to St. James High School in Chester, Pennsylvania. He obtained a master's degree in advanced ethics from Villanova University and a doctorate in political science at Georgetown University in 1970 where he wrote his dissertation under future United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and took classes at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. During his career he also performed the rite of exorcism.

He joined the United States Navy in 1952 as a Korean War chaplain, often entering combat zones in order to perform Mass and administer last rites to soldiers. He rose through the ranks to become rear admiral and chief of Navy chaplains. O'Connor was made a Prelate of Honor of His Holiness (monsignor) on 27 October 1966. On 24 April 1979 he was appointed by Pope John Paul II as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services and titular bishop of "Cursola"; O'Connor was personally consecrated to the episcopate on 27 May 1979 by John Paul II, with Duraisamy Simon Lourdusamy and Eduardo Martínez Somalo as co-consecrators, in St. Peter's Basilica. He was named Bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania on 6 May 1983, and installed in that position on the following 29 June. On 26 January 1984 O'Connor was appointed to Archbishop of New York, and installed on March 19. He was elevated to Cardinal Priest of " Ss. Giovanni e Paulo" the next year, on 25 May 1985. He never had the opportunity to participate in a papal conclave.

Archbishop of New York

As Archbishop of New York, O'Connor was a complex figure in a very visible position. He proved very media-savvy in the media-centric city,Fact|date=February 2007 yet he could be a stern critic of New York's political leaders when he deemed it necessary.

He skillfully brought to bear the power and prestige of his office to bear witness to traditional Catholic doctrine in a world frequently at odds with it.Fact|date=February 2007 He was an outspoken critic of abortion, the death penalty, homosexual practices, gay rights, and violence, including unjust war [] [] , regularly questioning the unchecked military spending of the 1980s. As a supporter of the rights of the worker he was known as a close friend of the labor movement and trade unions, thus earning the sobriquet: "The Patron Saint of the Working Man."Fact|date=February 2007

As head of the largest and arguably most visible Catholic diocese in the United States, he was a very prominent public figure. He was a friend of President Ronald Reagan and sometimes served as an advisor to him on matters of ethics and morality.Fact|date=February 2007

Inspired by a visit to a concentration camp he decided to found a religious order that would be advocate for the unborn and dying, and dedicated to the sanctity of human life. In 1991 his dream was realized in the Sisters of Life.


O'Connor was active in interfaith and ecumenical relations. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs called him, "a true friend and champion of Catholic-Jewish relations [and] as a humanitarian who used the power of his pulpit to advocate for disadvantaged people throughout the world and in his own community."Fact|date=February 2007 He strongly denounced anti-Semitism, and wrote an apology to Jewish leaders in New York for past harm done to the Jewish community.Fact|date=February 2007

Relations with the gay community

O'Connor taught that all homosexual acts were intrinsically immoral and therefore never permissible. He vigorously and actively opposed legislation guaranteeing the civil rights of gay men and women, and so was constantly at odds with the New York gay community throughout his sixteen year tenure as Archbishop.Fact|date=February 2007

O'Connor opposed city- and state-level bills which would have guaranteed equal civil rights to gay persons, including legislation (supported by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani) which granted gay men and women the right not to be discriminated against in housing, public accommodations, employment, and rent-related affairs, and Mayor Ed Koch's executive order requiring all social service agencies, including those run by the Church, to provide equal services to gays.Fact|date=February 2007 O'Connor and the New York Archdiocese brought suit against the City of New York, which resulted in the overturning of the executive order.Fact|date=February 2007 The Cardinal opposed the bill claiming it would cause the Church to appear to condone homosexual practices and lifestyle.Fact|date=February 2007 He prohibited a pro-homosexual group from meeting in New York parishes,Fact|date=February 2007 and supported efforts by the Ancient Order of Hibernians to prevent groups representing gay Irish people from marching as such in New York's St. Patrick's Day parade.Fact|date=February 2007

Cardinal O'Connor did celebrate Mass with Father John Harvey's "Courage", a ministry to homosexual men and women who seek to abstain from sexual relations.Fact|date=February 2007

HIV and contraception controversy

The Cardinal opposed condom distribution as an AIDS-prevention measure, viewing it as being contrary to the Church's teaching that contraception is immoral and its use a sin. O'Connor rejected the argument that condoms distributed to gay men are not contraceptives. O'Connor's response was that using an "evil act" was not justified by good intentions, and that the Church should not be seen as encouraging sinful acts among others (other fertile heterosexual couples who might wrongly interpret his narrow support as license for their own contraception).Fact|date=February 2007 He also claimed that sexual abstinence is a sure way to prevent infection, Fact|date=February 2007, claiming condoms were only 90% effective against HIV transmission.Dubious|date=March 2008 HIV activist group ACT-UP was appalled by the Cardinal's apparent opinion that it was sinful for an HIV positive person to use a condom to prevent transmission of HIV to his HIV negative partner, an opinion they believe would translate directly into more deaths.Fact|date=February 2007 This caused many of the confrontations between the group and the Cardinal.

Cardinal O'Connor was however very supportive of those who were infected with AIDS and HIV.Fact|date=February 2007 Early on in the AIDS epidemic, he approved the opening of a specialized AIDS unit to provide medical care for the sick and dying in St. Clare's Hospital in Manhattan, the first of its kind in the state. He often nurtured and ministered to dying AIDS patients, many of whom were homosexual. Even though he frequently condemned homosexuals (some members of ACT-UP had invaded St. Patrick's Cathedral in O'Connor's absence, to protest, holding placards such as "Cardinal O'Connor Loves Gay People...If They Are Dying of AIDS", when O'Connor had been appointed to Reagan's AIDS commission [] ), he would not allow his moral differences to interfere with ministering to them. As USA Today reported, he "washed the hair and emptied bedpans of dying AIDS patients, some too sick to know who he was." Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said "No place in the country are they working more aggressively to help AIDS patients than in the archdiocese."Fact|date=February 2007 O'Connor was one of the members of President Ronald Reagan's 1987 presidential commission on AIDS, serving alongside 12 other members with no expertise on the subject, including Richard DeVos and Penny Pullen.Fact|date=February 2007 The commission was considered an embarrassment by medical authorities, and a fiasco by members of the Reagan Administration, even though recommendations to Congress were eventually made.Fact|date=February 2007

Human rights advocacy

O'Connor was a supporter of certain human rights, having opposed abortion, human cloning, capital punishment, human trafficking, and unjust war. O'Connor believed in protecting human life from the unborn to those on death row. O'Connor also testified in favor of New York state legislation which sought to make human cloning research a crime punished by up to seven years of prison, presenting what the "Daily News" called "an apocalyptic vision" of clones as drones or slaves.Fact|date=February 2007 The legislation was ultimately withdrawn.


Because of a rise in the number of people who were looking for help from demonic attack in 1992 O'Connor appointed Father James LeBar as chief exorcist of the archdiocese of New York and three other priests as exorcists, a rare occurrence in modern times.

Illness and death

When O'Connor reached the retirement age for bishops of 75 in January 1995, he submitted his resignation to the Pope as required, but the Pope did not accept it.

In 1999 O'Connor was diagnosed as having a brain tumor, to which he eventually succumbed. He continued to serve as Archbishop of New York until his death, just days before the announcement of his successor. He died in the Archbishop's residence, and is interred in the crypt under the altar of St. Patrick's Cathedral. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Former President George H.W. Bush, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush, New York Governor George Pataki, and then-New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani were among the dignitaries who attended his funeral in St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was presided over by Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano. [ [ "O'Connor entombed at St. Patrick's Cathedral"] ; May 8, 2000; "USA Today"; url accessed March 13, 2007] He was succeeded by Edward Cardinal Egan.


Cardinal O'Connor was posthumously awarded the Jackie Robinson Empire State Medal of Freedom by the Governor of New York George Pataki on December 21, 2000. On March 7, 2000 O'Connor was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by unanimous support in the United States Senate and only one vote against the resolution in the United States House of Representatives. Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican from Texas, opposed on the grounds that awarding the medal was not among the powers of Congress listed in the Constitution.

O'Connor's tenure earned him the enmity of New York's gay community. O'Connor was a favorite object of scorn and ridicule in ACT UP's demonstrations. Michael Petrelis, a founding member of ACT UP, indicated that the group "came to St. Patrick's in 1989 to repel the church's destructive intrusion into public policies concerning AIDS, gay civil rights and women's reproductive rights." The strong feelings that Cardinal O'Connor's campaigning against gay civil rights inspired were evoked at his passing, when "Time Out New York", a weekly city entertainment guide, described his death as one of the best things to happen to the gay community in 2000, saying "The press eulogized him as a saint, when in fact, the pious creep was a stuck-in-the-1950s anti-gay menace. Good riddance!". The resulting cries of outrage forced the magazine to apologize. Brendan Fay, of the Catholic gay group DignityUSA, summarized that "O'Connor will certainly not be remembered as a friend or advocate at our time of greatest need," even though, beginning in 1995, O'Connor held a dialogue with the group twice a year. Jeff Stone, a spokesman for DignityUSA, did note, "We are saddened by his death." To honor his distinguished service as a US Navy chaplain, the Catholic Center at the Naval Post-Graduate School, Monterey, CA, is named the O'Connor Center.

With O'Connor's death the controversy surrounding his high-profile and vocal advocacy of the sexual teachings of the Roman Catholic Church has left him with a mixed legacy. Lauded by some traditionalists, considered a demon by many in the gay community, he was arguably one of the most controversial American clerics of the late 20th century.

Episcopal succession

date of consecration=May 27 1979
consecrated by=Pope John Paul II
bishopconsecrated1 = bishopconsecrated1
bishop 1=Alfred James Jolson
consecration date 1=February 6 1988
bishopconsecrated2 = bishopconsecrated2
bishop 2=Patrick Joseph Sheridan
consecration date 2=December 12 1990
bishopconsecrated3 = bishopconsecrated3
bishop 3=James Michael Moynihan
consecration date 3=May 29 1995
bishopconsecrated4 = bishopconsecrated4
bishop 4=Edwin Frederick O'Brien
consecration date 4=March 25 1996
bishopconsecrated5 = bishopconsecrated5
bishop 5=Robert Anthony Brucato
consecration date 5=August 25 1997
bishopconsecrated6 = bishopconsecrated6
bishop 6=James Francis McCarthy
consecration date 6=June 29 1999
bishopconsecrated7 = null
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ee also

*List of Roman Catholic Bishops and Archbishops of New York
*List of notable cardinals

External links

* [ Catholic New York stories on Cardinal O'Connor ]
* [ Anna Quindlen, criticising Cardinal O'Connor in the "Public and Private" column of the New York Times 17 February 1993 ]
* [ President George W. Bush, speaking in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York when he gave the Congressional Gold Medal to the late Cardinal's family & the new Archbishop 10 July 2001 ]
* [ Cardinal O'Connor's publicly expressed opinions, quoted from his personal archives ]
* [ 2000 - The Death of John Cardinal O'Connor] A report from Rich Lamb of WCBS Newsradio 880 (WCBS-AM New York) Part of WCBS 880's celebration of 40 years of newsradio.

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