Sons of Saint Patrick

by George Marlin and Brad Miner

Ignatius Press, £27

More than 10 years ago I attended a Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York for the repose of the soul of a dear old friend’s mother. It was a week or so before Christmas, it was snowing outside fairly heavily and the Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Edward Egan, whose deep, melancholy voice seemed a standing rebuke to the blithe, pagan town outside the cathedral doors.

After the Mass, my friend and I exchanged notes over hot whiskies until I had to go to Saks Fifth Avenue to do some last-minute Christmas shopping for my wife. Once I found what I needed, I turned and noticed that I was standing beside a priest and, when I looked more closely, I saw that the priest was none other than Cardinal Egan. Startled, I introduced myself and thanked him for the lovely Mass he had celebrated.

At first, His Eminence glowered at me. But then he visibly softened, smiled and confessed that he was hiding not only from his security guards but also the entire cathedral staff, who had become particularly importunate on that dark, snowy, hectic morning. “You must not give me away,” he urged, taking me by the arm and looking for all the world like a truant schoolboy. I assured him that my lips were sealed. He then shook my hand and gave me his blessing, and before we parted I saw that there was a distinct twinkle in his eye.

This story says a lot about a prelate who rarely received the fair press he deserved. Cardinal Egan was a devout, learned and courageous bishop, and I was heartened to see the authors of this book praise him for his witness to the enormity of abortion. For example, in 2008, the then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, gave an interview in which she echoed the sentiments of most Catholic politicians in the United States. After assuring her interviewer that she was “an ardent, practising Catholic”, the Speaker explained that abortion was an issue that she had “studied for a long time” and, as far as she could tell, “over centuries the Doctors of the Church have not been able to make the definition”. To which Cardinal Egan splendidly responded: “What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age … In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right the Speaker is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinion of theologians of any faith.”

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection