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CNN Today

As Mourners Gather for Cardinal O'Connor's Funeral, Many Reflect on His Life

Aired May 8, 2000 - 1:01 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: Thousands of people are gathering to say farewell to Cardinal John O'Connor, a man whose vision extended well beyond his New York Archdiocese. The funeral begins in one hour.

Our coverage begins now with CNN's Deborah Feyerick, she is outside the cathedral -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, President Clinton and the first lady arrived just a few moments ago. Also inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, the vice president Al Gore as well as his wife and former President George Bush. Many of the invited guests are now beginning to arrive, they include former New York City Mayor Ed Koch as well as U.S. Senator Al D'Amato. All of them are here to honor Cardinal O'Connor who for 16 years served the New York Archdiocese and its 2.4 million Catholics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALFONSE D'AMATO, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: He was a great role model to say the least, and he could put you on track with such clarity, and he cared, he really cared about everyone. He cared about the least fortunate, he cared about the poor of this city, he cared about all of our youngsters getting a quality education. He cared about things that really were not just Catholic but were important to people in bringing them together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: There will a very elaborate procession into the church. The cardinal's coffin is covered by a white pall that is no longer open. The cardinals are expected to sit at the front of the sanctuary, in the front rows will be John Cardinal O'Connor's family members, including his sister Mary. The dignitaries will all be sitting behind.

Now presiding over the service, over this Christian burial Mass will be Cardinal Angelo Sodano, he officiated at Mother Teresa's funeral and it's just a sign of how high and in what esteem the pope held Cardinal O'Connor during their long friendship together.

The "Ave Maria" is expected to be sung by Frank Patterson who is an Irish tenor. And then the opening prayer will be said by the head of the Sisters of Life, that is an order founded by John O'Connor in 1991; that to help pregnant mothers who wanted to keep their children. The homily will be given by Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, he's a very close friend of Cardinal O'Connor's. He was with Cardinal O'Connor at his death bed.

Reporting live, Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: In his 55 years as a priest, and especially his 16 years as New York Archbishop, John O'Connor touched millions of lives and alienated thousands of others.

CNN's Bill Delaney looks at the cardinal's steadfast adherence to church doctrine and the price he often paid in popularity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As days of prayer and remembrance began for millions of John Cardinal O'Connor's flock, many said they'd miss a man who'd embodied Catholic orthodoxy, standing his ground amid often shifting moral sands.

For others, though, like gay activist Ann Northrop, Cardinal O'Connor's black and white vision of right and wrong missed too many of shades of gray.

ANN NORTHROP, GAY ACTIVIST: He was a bigot, and he was very aggressive about promoting his bigotry.

DELANEY: Which led Ann Northrop and hundreds of others to take part in the notorious disruptions by the gay group ACT-UP at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1992. The cardinal also frustrating many by his uncompromising stand against abortion, any abortion, in any circumstances.

KELLI CONLIN, ABORTION RIGHTS ACTIVIST: He was not willing to open up his heart and his mind to understanding, that those of us who held differing views who were Catholics, who were pro-choice, believed what we did because of our faith, and not in spite of it.

DELANEY: The cardinal not yielding, though, to Catholics who saw abortion rights as women's rights, even threatening at one point to excommunicate then governor Mario Cuomo for his support of abortion rights. O'Connor did not carry out his threat, and in time, became reconciled with Cuomo; if not, to the end, to homosexuality or abortion.

(on camera): For all his usually very public confrontations with those whose values he opposed, Cardinal O'Connor's many admirers here in New York say he never just wagged an accusatory finger, often very quietly they say, reaching out to poor single mothers who chose to have their babies, drug-addicted mothers, and he reached out to victims of AIDS.

(voice-over): But in a city where breaking all the rules often seems, well, the rule, Cardinal O'Connor played by his rules and expected his flock to as well.

Bill Delaney, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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