Egan Breaks His Silence, and Emphasizes Children

April 25, 2002

By DANIEL J. WAKIN

New York Times

ROME, April 24 - For days, most of the American cardinals
who met in the Vatican to discuss sexual abuse by priests
spoke regularly to reporters and appeared before cameras.
Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York had not been among
them.

But today Cardinal Egan broke his silence in a brief
interview as he headed to the Vatican for the cardinals'
closing session. He described grueling talks with the pope
and other Vatican officials and repeated what cardinals
have been saying - their overriding concern is the safety
of children.

"What we're mainly interested in right now is how we're
going to deal with these particular cases when they come
forward," he said.

The prime concern, he said, is safety for young people,
adding: "As far as the Archdiocese of New York is
concerned, my focus is on that overriding consideration. I
cannot allow anything of this kind to happen."

Cardinal Egan said the meeting had helped improve
communication between the American church and the Vatican
on the scandal.

"What I think has been most important here is that the Holy
See, the pope and his top officials have had a chance to
explain to us their reaction to all of this in great
detail, and we've had a chance to explain our understanding
to them," the cardinal said.

The interview was the first time that he responded to
questions since reports in March that he had allowed
priests accused of sexually abusing minors to continuing
working while he was bishop of Bridgeport, Conn.

Cardinal Egan declined to discuss crucial issues that have
been the object of talks among the prelates, whether
homosexuality has a role in the abuse of minors and whether
or under what conditions accused priests can return to
ministries.

"I would also say that The New York Times and everybody
else has got to be very careful about statements, about
reports and so forth," he said.

What prompted his concern, he added, was a picture of him
in La Stampa of Turin. Under it was a quotation attributed
to him saying homosexuals should not be admitted to
seminaries because they risked becoming pedophiles.

"Never has anyone asked me anything about seminaries, about
the words they use as gay and so forth," the cardinal said.
The comment actually was a reference to words attributed to
the rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Msgr. Eugene V.
Clark, in a homily on Sunday, Cardinal Egan said.

When asked about homosexuals in the priesthood, Cardinal
Egan responded:

"I would just say this. The most important thing is to
clean up the truth. And the truth is I have never said
anything."

When could an accused priest return to ministry, Cardinal
Egan was asked earlier in the day. The issue was a major
one, but he could not immediately answer the question. "In
due course, I will," he said.

In an interview with television reporters in the morning,
he had said bishops could take different approaches,
investigating before making a decision or sending away a
priest immediately for psychological evaluation.

In an interview in late afternoon with another television
reporter, Cardinal Egan was also asked about criticism that
he had shown more concern for the church than for victims
of sex abuse by priests. The cardinal called the criticism
nonsense. He said he had nothing more to add to a letter to
parishioners in the archdiocese on Sunday in which he said
he was deeply sorry "if in hindsight we also discover that
mistakes may have been made" over the prompt removal of
priests and over helping victims.

"I have said what I thought I needed to say to the people,
and I hope it worked," he said. "And that's the end."

Most of the other cardinals are staying in relatively
spartan rooms at the North American College or the Santa
Marta, a hotel-like residence in the Vatican. But Cardinal
Egan is staying where he often does when visiting Rome, the
five-star Crowne Plaza Rome-Minerva hotel near the
Pantheon. As if to head off any suggestion that he was
sojourning in excessive luxury, the cardinal mentioned that
the hotel's chairman was a friend of 40 years and let him
stay there.

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