NEW YORK, May 11 (JTA) — The Connecticut bishop tabbed to replace the late Cardinal John O’Connor has reportedly not played an active role in intercommunal relations so far.
But Jewish leaders sense that in a city with as diverse a population as New York, he will be obliged to continue the tradition established by O’Connor.
The Vatican announced Thursday that Bishop Edward Egan, 68, would lead the New York archdiocese, following the May 3 death of O’Connor.
Egan, who has headed the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese since 1988, has distinguished himself as a leader in Catholic education, an effective administrator and a tireless fund-raiser. He is also a staunch opponent of abortion, contraception and homosexuality.
His interactions with the Jewish community have been few, but positive, said Rabbi James Prosnit of Congregation Bnai Israel, a Reform shul in Bridgeport.
“He’s a good man, very elegant, very eloquent,” said Prosnit, who noted that Egan had spoken at the rabbi’s installation 10 years ago. “He has mostly been focused on the needs of the diocese, which are extensive. He hasn’t been particularly visible in interfaith connections. But that doesn’t mean he won’t follow well in Cardinal O’Connor’s footsteps.”
Still, Egan has not been completely off the Jewish radar.
When invited, he has appeared at several interfaith events, including a recent conference and prayer breakfast, said Laurie Groff, director of community relations for the Jewish Center for Community Services, of Eastern Fairfield County, Conn.
“In his remarks, Bishop Egan always indicates a desire to improve Catholic-Jewish relations,” Groff said. “He is also aware and proud of the strides that have been made so far.”
When he’s not invited, Egan, unlike O’Connor, has not gone out of his way to improve ties between the two communities, according to another Jewish official in Bridgeport.
“He’s not the type to drop in on a synagogue event or for a Jewish holiday,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “When he shows up, he does the right thing and says nice things. But can I say he’s a great friend of the Jews? I don’t know.”
To be fair, say local Jewish leaders, the bishopric of Bridgeport is a more parochial post than the New York archdiocese.
Indeed, in New York the archbishop leads a flock of 2.4 million Catholics, said to be the most powerful diocese in the United States. And they rub shoulders with innumerable ethnic and religious groups — including a million-plus Jewish New Yorkers.
O’Connor condemned racism and anti-Semitism, apologized for the Roman Catholic Church’s silence during the Holocaust and pressed for diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel.
So Bishop Egan has large shoes to fill, said Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
“Bishop Egan won’t have to start from the beginning,” said Rudin. “Cardinal O’Connor has left a rich legacy in Catholic-Jewish relations. So many relationships of trust have been established, Bishop Egan will have something to build on. My hope is that he will make these gains in relations a permanent feature of the archdiocese, Catholic education and Catholic liturgy.”