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John O'Connor (archbishop of New York)

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John O'Connor (archbishop of New York)

His Eminence
John Joseph O'Connor
Cardinal, Archbishop Emeritus of New York
See New York
Appointed January 26, 1984
Installed March 19, 1984
Term ended May 3, 2000
Predecessor Terence Cooke
Successor Edward Egan
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo
Ordination December 15, 1945
by Hugh L. Lamb
Consecration May 27, 1979
by John Paul II
Created Cardinal May 25, 1985
by John Paul II
Rank Cardinal Priest
Personal details
Born (1920-01-15)January 15, 1920
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died May 3, 2000(2000-05-03) (aged 80)
New York City, New York, United States
Buried St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, New York, United States
Denomination Roman Catholicism
Parents Thomas J. O'Connor & Dorothy Magdalene Gomple
Previous post
Alma mater Georgetown University (1970)
Motto There Can Be No Love Without Justice
Coat of arms }
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1952–1979
Rank Rear Admiral

John Joseph O'Connor (January 15, 1920 – May 3, 2000) was an American prelate of the Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of New York from 1984 until his death in 2000, and was created a cardinal in 1985. He previously served as auxiliary bishop of the Military Vicariate of the United States (now the Archdiocese for the Military Services) (1979–83) and Bishop of Scranton (1983–84).


  • Early life, education, and military career 1
  • Bishop 2
  • Archbishop of New York 3
    • Pro-life advocacy 3.1
    • Critiques of U.S. military actions 3.2
    • Relations with organized labor 3.3
    • Relations with the Jewish community 3.4
    • Relations with the gay community 3.5
    • HIV and contraception controversy 3.6
  • Illness and death 4
  • Legacy 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life, education, and military career

O'Connor was born in Philadelphia, the fourth of five children of Thomas J. and Dorothy Magdalene (née Gomple) O'Connor (1886–1971), daughter of Gustave Gumpel, a kosher butcher and Jewish rabbi.[1][2] In 2014, his sister Mary O'Connor Ward discovered through genealogical research that their mother was born Jewish and was baptized as a Roman Catholic at age 19. John's parents were wed the following year.[3]

He attended public schools until his junior year of high school, when he enrolled in West Philadelphia Catholic High School for Boys.[2]

O'Connor then enrolled at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and after graduating from there he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on December 15, 1945, by Hugh L. Lamb, then an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese.[4] He was initially assigned to teach at St. James High School in Chester, Pennsylvania.

O'Connor joined the United States Navy in 1952 as a military chaplain during the Korean War, often entering combat zones in order to say Mass and to administer last rites to soldiers. He rose through the ranks to become a rear admiral and Chief of Chaplains of the Navy. During this period, he was made an Honorary Prelate of His Holiness, with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor, on October 27, 1966.[5]

O'Connor obtained a Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and wrote his dissertation under future United Nations ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick.


On April 24, 1979, Archdiocese for the Military Services in 1985, and titular bishop of Cursola. He was consecrated to the episcopate on May 27, 1979 at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome by John Paul himself, along with Cardinals Duraisamy Simon Lourdusamy and Eduardo Martínez Somalo as co-consecrators.

On May 6, 1983, John Paul II named O'Connor Bishop of Scranton, and he was installed in that position on the following June 29.

Archbishop of New York

Styles of
John O'Connor
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal

On January 26, 1984, after the death of Cardinal Terence Cooke three months earlier, O'Connor was appointed Archbishop of New York and administrator of the Military Vicariate of the United States, and installed on March 19. He was elevated to cardinal in the consistory of May 25, 1985, with the titulur church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Rome, the traditional one for the Archbishop of New York.

As Archbishop, O'Connor skillfully brought to bear the power and prestige of his office to bear witness to traditional Catholic doctrine. Upon his death, the New York Times called O'Connor "a familiar and towering presence, a leader whose views and personality were forcefully injected into the great civic debates of his time, a man who considered himself a conciliator, but who never hesitated to be a combatant", and one of the Catholic Church's "most powerful symbols on moral and political issues." [6]

Pro-life advocacy

O'Connor believed in protecting all human life, from the unborn to convicts on death row. He was a forceful opponent of abortion, human cloning, capital punishment, human trafficking, and unjust war.[7][8] Horrified by a visit to Dachau concentration camp, O'Connor was inspired to found a Roman Catholic religious institute dedicated to the sanctity of all human life to serve the unborn and dying.[9] In 1991 his dream was realized in the Sisters of Life. He assailed what he called the "horror of euthanasia", asking rhetorically, "What makes us think that permitted lawful suicide will not become obligated suicide?"[10]

In 2000, O'Connor called for a "major overhaul" of the punitive Rockefeller drug laws, which he believed produced "grave injustices".[11]

Critiques of U.S. military actions

Despite his years spent as a Navy chaplain, O'Connor offered severe critiques of some United States military policies. In the 1980s, he condemned U.S. support for counterrevolutionary guerrilla forces in Central America, opposed the U.S.'s mining of the waters off Nicaragua, questioned spending on new weapons systems, and preached caution in regard to American military actions abroad.[6][12]

In 1998, he questioned whether the United States' [13]

Relations with organized labor

O'Connor's father had been a

Military offices
Preceded by
Francis L. Garrett
Chief of Chaplains of the United States Navy
1975 – 1979
Succeeded by
Ross H. Trower
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Thomas Benjamin Fulton
Auxiliary Bishop for the Military Vicariate of the United States (now the Military Services)

Titular Bishop of Cursola
1979 – 1983

Succeeded by
Pedro Luís Guido Scarpa OFMCap
Preceded by
Joseph Carroll McCormick
Bishop of Scranton
1983 – 1984
Succeeded by
James Clifford Timlin
Preceded by
Terence James Cooke
Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York
1984 – 2000
Succeeded by
Edward Michael Egan
Cardinal-Priest of Santi Giovanni e Paolo
1985 – 2000
  • 17 February 1993New York TimesAnna Quindlen, "Public and Private",
  • Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, official website
  • Archdiocese for the Military Services of the United States. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
  • , the official paper of the archdiocese, stories on Cardinal O'ConnorCatholic New York
  • President George W. Bush, speaking in St. Patrick's Cathedral when he posthumously gave the Congressional Gold Medal to Cardinal O'Connor, 10 July 2001
  • Catholic New YorkArchive of Cardinal O'Connor's weekly columns in
  • Cardinal O'Connor's Letter on Church Stewardship to the McKenna Ministry
  • WCBS-AM New York report by Rich Lamb on the Cardinal's death
  • Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life
  • EWTN Global Catholic Network's biography of Cardinal O'Connor
  • The Charlie Rose ShowVideo of 1994 interview of Cardinal O'Connor on

External links

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b EWTN, In Memoriam retrieved 12-31-08
  3. ^ Cardinal O’Connor’s Mother Was Convert From Judaism, Family Research RevealsCatholic New York retrieved 5-1-2014
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c , May 4, 2000New York Times"Death of a Cardinal; Cardinal O'Connor, 80, Dies; Forceful Voice for Vatican", . Retrieved 12-31-08
  7. ^ "Abortion: Questions and Answers", July 1990;Catholic New York. Retrieved 12-31-08
  8. ^ April 26, 1999Catholic New York"Conditions for a Just War", . Retrieved 12-31-08
  9. ^ Sisters of Life official history
  10. ^ , April 8, 1996New York Times"Cardinal's Easter Joy Is Tempered by Court Ruling on Aided Suicide", . Retrieved January 7, 2009
  11. ^ February 3, 2000Catholic New York"The Rockefeller Drug Laws", . Retrieved 1/2/09
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b , August 27, 1998Catholic New York"Were the Attacks Morally Justifiable?", . Retrieved 1/2/09
  14. ^ , June 3, 1999Catholic New York"Many Moral Questions on Kosovo Conflict", . Retrieved 1/2/09
  15. ^ , April 29, 1999Catholic New York"Conditions for a Just War", . Retrieved 1/2/09
  16. ^ , May 13, 1999Catholic New York"Ten Good Men for a Power-Mad World", . Retrieved 1/2/09
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b , September 2, 1985New York Times"O'Connor Says He May Uphold Hospital Accord", . Retrieved 1-3-09
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ , July 24, 2000New York Times"Union Celebrates O'Connor's Labor Views", . Retrieved 1-2-09
  22. ^ , August 29, 2005AmericaA. James Rudin, "A Jewish-Catholic Friendship",
  23. ^ "The Cardinal's Epistles to the Jews," by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, The Jewish Week, May 12, 2000
  24. ^ August 16, 1998Catholic New York"When Will the Holocaust Really End?", . Retrieved 1/2/09
  25. ^ "O'Connor Is Upset by Critics of Trip", New York Times, January 12, 1987. Retrieved January 1, 2009
  26. ^ JCPA press release, May 4, 2000
  27. ^ , February 15, 1987New York Times"Religion Notes; For Cardinal, Wiesel Visit Proved a Calm in Storm Over Trip", . Retrieved January 7, 2009
  28. ^ , November 27, 1984New York Times"Archdiocese Challenges Koch's Order on Hiring", . Retrieved January 2, 2009
  29. ^ a b
  30. ^ a b c
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ a b , November 27, 1984New York Times"Archdiocese Challenges Koch's Order on Hiring, . Retrieved 1-2-09
  34. ^ , February 7, 1986New York Times"Brooklyn Diocese Joins Homosexual-Bill Fight", . Retrieved 1-1-09
  35. ^ a b
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ , March 16, 1994New York Times"Irish Parade Becomes a Political Hurdle", . Retrieved January 4, 2009
  40. ^ , October 29, 1992New York Times"Gay Irish Win Right to a Parade That Might Die", . Retrieved January 4, 2009
  41. ^ , March 1994, Lesbian & Gay Law Ass'n of Greater NYLesbian/Gay Law Notes. Retrieved January 4, 2009
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^ a b
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^ , November 11, 1987New York Times"AIDS Panel Head Says Rift Is Over", . Retrieved January 6, 2009
  52. ^
  53. ^ , April 2003HIV PlusGilden, Dave, "Politics Before Science?", . Retrieved January 6, 2009
  54. ^ , February 28, 1988New York Times"The Right Fight Against AIDS; As the Admiral Says, Focus on Addicts", . Retrieved January 6, 2009
  55. ^ , June 2, 1988New York Times"Expert Panel Sees Poor Leadership in U.S. AIDS Battle", . Retrieved January 6, 2009
  56. ^ BBC News, “Papal visit: Thousands protest against Pope in London”, September 18, 2010.
  57. ^ "O'Connor entombed at St. Patrick's Cathedral"; May 8, 2000; USA Today. Retrieved March 13, 2007
  58. ^ "He Hasn't Left", January 2000; Catholic New York. Retrieved 12-31-08
  59. ^


See also

To honor his distinguished service as a US Navy chaplain, the Catholic Center at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, is named the O'Connor Center. The largest student run pro-life conference in the U.S. is named in his honor. It is held every year at Georgetown University the day before the annual March for Life.[59]

O'Connor was posthumously 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.

Congressional Gold Medal awarded to John Cardinal O'Connor.


O'Connor died in the Archbishop's residence on May 3, 2000 and was interred in the crypt beneath the main altar of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani were among the dignitaries who attended his funeral, which was presided over by the Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano.[57] The eulogy was delivered by Cardinal William W. Baum.[58]

When O'Connor reached the retirement age for bishops of 75 in January 1995, he submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II as required by Church law, but the Pope did not accept it. He was diagnosed in 1999 as having a brain tumor, from which he eventually died. He continued to serve as Archbishop of New York until his death.

Illness and death

On December 10, 1989, 4,500 members of ACT UP (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) and WHAM (Women's Health Action and Mobilization) held a demonstration at Saint Patricks Cathedral to voice their opposition to the Cardinals to AIDS education, the distribution of condoms in public schools and his position on abortion, during which 43 people were arrested inside the cathedral. At the time it was the largest demonstration against the Catholic church in history and remained so until Pope Benedict XVI's visit in 2010 to the UK caused protests by approximately 20,000 people.[56]

In 1987, O'Connor was appointed to President Ronald Reagan's President's Commission on the HIV Epidemic, also known as the Watkins Commission, serving alongside 12 other members, few of whom were AIDS experts, including James D. Watkins, Richard DeVos, and Penny Pullen.[50] The Commission was initially controversial among HIV researchers and activists as lacking expertise on the disease and as being in disarray.[51][52] The Watkins Commission surprised many of its critics, however, by issuing a final report in 1988 that lent conservative support for antibias laws to protect HIV-positive people, on-demand treatment for drug addicts, and the speeding of AIDS-related research.[53] The New York Times praised the Commission's "remarkable strides" and its proposed $2 billion campaign against AIDS among drug addicts.[54] The Watkins Commission's recommendations were similar to the recommendations subsequently made by a committee of HIV experts appointed by the National Academy of Sciences.[55]

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 the former 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 condemned homosexual acts—some members of ACT UP had protested in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral in his absence, to protest, holding placards such as "Cardinal O'Connor Loves Gay People...If They Are Dying of AIDS"—[49]) he would not allow his moral differences to interfere with ministering to them.

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).[45][46] He also claimed that sexual abstinence is a sure way to prevent infection,[45] claiming condoms were only 50% effective against HIV transmission.[47] 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.[48] This caused many of the confrontations between the group and the Cardinal.

HIV and contraception controversy

[44] After eight years of protests by the group, O'Connor started meeting with the group twice a year.[43][42] In 1987, O'Connor had prohibited

[41]" as to which the parade sponsor had a right to control the content and tone.speech" because the parade was private, not public, and constituted "a pristine form of unconstitutional in New York held that the city's permit denial was "patently federal judge The city subsequently denied the Hibernians a permit for the parade until, in 1993, a [40] O'Connor also supported the decision by the

O'Connor vigorously and actively opposed City and State legislation guaranteeing the civil rights of homosexual persons, including legislation (supported by then-Mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani) prohibiting discrimination based upon sexual orientation in housing, public accommodations and employment.[35][35][36][37]

[34] upheld the lower court's decision striking down the executive order.New York's highest court In June 1985, [33] agreed with the religious entities and struck down that part of the executive order that prohibited discrimination based upon "sexual orientation or affectational preference" on the grounds that the Mayor had exceeded his authority.New York Supreme Court In September 1984, the [33][30], brought suit against the City of New York to overturn the executive order on the grounds that the Mayor had exceeded his executive authority in issuing it.Chamber of Commerce and IndustrySubsequently, the Salvation Army, the Archdiocese and Agudath Israel, together with the
We do not believe that religious agencies should be required to employ those engaging in or advocating homosexual behavior. We are willing to consider on a case-by-case basis the employment of individuals who have engaged in or may at some future time engage in homosexual behavior. We approach those who have engaged in or may engage in what the Church considers illicit heterosexual behavior the same way.... We believe, however, that only a religious agency itself can properly determine the requirements of any particular job within that agency, and whether or not a particular individual meets or is reasonably likely to meet such requirements.[32]
[31] between homosexual "inclinations" and "behavior", he stated that "we do not believe that homosexual behavior ... should be elevated to a protected category."Catholic distinction in January 1985, O'Connor characterized the order as "an exceedingly dangerous precedent [that would] invite unacceptable governmental intrusion into and excessive entanglement with the Church's conducting of its own internal affairs." Drawing the traditional Catholic New York Writing in [30][30] O'Connor maintained that the executive order would cause the Church to appear to condone homosexual practices and lifestyle.[29]O'Connor actively opposed Executive Order 50, a

O'Connor adhered to the Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are contrary to natural law, intrinsically immoral and therefore never permissible, while homosexual desires are intrinsically disordered but not in themselves sinful.

Relations with the gay community

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs called him, "a true friend and champion of Catholic-Jewish relations [and] a humanitarian who used the power of his pulpit to advocate for disadvantaged people throughout the world and in his own community."[26] Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel called O'Connor, "a good Christian" and a man "who understands our pain."[27]

O'Connor criticized Swiss banks' failure to compensate victims of the Holocaust, which he called "a human rights issue, an issue of the human race."[24] Even when disagreeing with him over political questions, Jewish leaders acknowledged that O'Connor was "a friend, a powerful voice against anti-Semitism".[25]

O'Connor played an active role in Catholic-Jewish relations. He strongly denounced anti-Semitism, declaring that one "cannot be a faithful Christian and an anti-Semite. They are incompatible, because anti-Semitism is a sin."[22] He wrote an apology to Jewish leaders in New York for past harm done to the Jewish community.[23]

Relations with the Jewish community

Following his death, SEIU 1199, published a 12-page tribute to O'Connor, calling him "the patron saint of working people" and describing his support for low-wage and other workers and his efforts in helping limousine drivers unionize, helping end the strike at The Daily News in 1990, and pushing for fringe benefits for minimum-wage home health care workers.[21]

In 1987, when the television broadcast employees union was on strike against NBC, a non-union crew from NBC appeared at the Cardinal's residence to cover one of O'Connor's press conferences. O'Connor declined to admit them, directing his secretary to "tell them they're not invited."[20]

[S]o many of our freedoms in this country, so much of the building up of society, is precisely attributable to the union movement, a movement that I personally will defend despite the weakness of some of its members, despite the corruption with which we are all familiar that pervades all society, a movement that I personally will defend with my life....[19]
Mass at St. Patrick's in 1986, O'Connor expressed his strong commitment to organized labor: Labor Day during a homilyIn his

Early in his tenure, O'Connor set a pro-labor direction for the Archdiocese. During a strike in 1984 by 1199, the largest health care workers union in New York, O'Connor strongly criticized the League of Voluntary Hospitals, of which the Archdiocese was a member, for threatening to fire striking union members who refused to return to work, calling it "strikebreaking" and vowing that no Catholic hospital would do so.[18] The following year, when a contract with 1199 still had not been reached, he threatened to break with the League and settle with the union unilaterally to reach an agreement "that gives justice to the workers".[18]


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