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Cardinal John O'Connor's Death Prompts Secretive Search for Successor

Aired May 4, 2000 - 2:10 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Funeral services have been set for Monday for Cardinal John O'Connor of New York. The cardinal died last night of brain cancer at the age of 80. He was widely regarded as America's most influential Roman Catholic leader. The news was received with sadness at St. Patrick's Cathedral where he presided for the last 16 years. The cardinal was a strong supporter of the church's positions on abortion and homosexuality. A spokesman said he died peacefully at his residence behind St. Patrick's. Friends in public and private life remember him as a great man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARDINAL BERNARD LAW, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS: The cardinal represented an absolutely unique combination of qualities. He had one of the most keen intellects of anyone I have ever known. He had a rapier like wit, he was absolutely fearless, he had an unlimited compassion for the individual, his willingness to reach out to someone suffering, to the underdog, was incredible, you know, and his life, his ministry went on after hours so that it wasn't just the big events, but it was also the unheralded, small pastoral events. He was able to engage our culture and, you know, and you've heard me say, that this dominant culture is not very congenial to some of the values that we would hold up. But he was undaunted by that and unafraid and did that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: At the White House, President Clinton issued a statement praising Cardinal O'Connor as a man who gave a voice to the poor and neglected, and a man of firm faith.

The Reverend Billy Graham called him a "great warrior," "a bold and courageous man," "faithful to his friends and to his church."

The Vatican has yet to say when it will name a successor to Cardinal O'Connor. Several important church leaders from the Northeast reportedly are under consideration.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick looks at four leading candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The New York Archdiocese is the third largest in the United States, but Cardinal O'Connor elevated it to the most prominent in the country, using his New York City pulpit to attract media attention for the causes he believed in. Now the question is, who will succeed him?

In Catholic circles, four names are among the most discussed: Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the U.S. military service; Bishop Henry Mansell of Buffalo, New York; Bishop Sean O'Malley from Fall River, Massachusetts; and Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, New Jersey.

Archbishop O'Brien is a protege of Cardinal O'Connor's and, like him, has devotedly served American troops. Among Bishop Mansell's achievements, creating the Catholic Health Care System of Western New York, uniting the resources of Catholic nursing homes, hospitals and health facilities.

Then there is Bishop O'Malley, who is considered a rising star in church hierarchy. A member of the Franciscan order, among his achievements: working closely with different Hispanic, Portuguese and Haitian communities.

As for Bronx-born Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, he has held numerous high-level positions within the church. Last year, he was appointed to the U.S. Commission for Religious Freedom. Although at 70-years-old he is close to retirement, he's also a prodigious fund- raiser, something which could benefit the New York Archdiocese.

Although these are the names most mentioned, Pope John Paul II may have his own ideas. After all, no one predicted the bishop from Scranton, Pennsylvania, John O'Connor, would be chosen 16 years ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: And the process of choosing a successor is very, very secretive. The pope receives a list of the top candidates. All of them have been interviewed. They are not allowed to say anything to anyone. Now, the pope, once he receives this list, he will make his choice. And sometimes the name is on the list and sometimes it's not. Now, in the past, church higher-ups have been surprised at the selection.

Now, here at St. Pat's, it's really acting as a magnet. Many people have been streaming in all day. Politicians have also been stopping by to pay tribute. Among them, the son of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., as well as former vice presidential candidate and CNN commentator Geraldine Ferraro, all of them here just to pay tribute to Cardinal O'Connor.

At the noonday mass, there are about 1,000 people, all of them taking a few minutes out of their busy day to reflect and remember -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Deborah Feyerick in New York, thanks.

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