VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II today named Bishop Edward M. Egan as the new head of the New York archdiocese, putting a staunch conservative in the Roman Catholic Church's most prominent position in the United States.
The announcement came eight days after New York Cardinal John O'Connor died after a long battle with a brain tumor.
Taking the post as spiritual leader of New York's 2.4 million Catholics, Egan, 68, bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., is widely expected to be elevated to cardinal, as is traditional for the post, the next time the pope selects new ''princes'' of the church.
Egan, a Chicago-area native and expert on canon law, is well known at the Holy See after years of work at the Vatican and is an unswerving supporter of John Paul.
In Bridgeport, he won a reputation as a deft fund-raiser and a tireless recruiter of new priests.
He is also known for backing the pope's condemnation of abortion, homosexual acts and contraception, and raised controversy in his diocese for his staunch defense of the church in the face of a sexual molestation suit against local priests.
The appointment brings him back to New York, where he was appointed in 1985 by O'Connor, at the pope's request, to be auxiliary bishop and vicar for education.
''He will do a wonderful job,'' retired Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Ahern of New York's Church of St. Thomas More said this morning.
''He's a renaissance man who can cheer at a Cubs game,'' said Monsignor Timothy Dolan, an American who heads the North American Pontifical College in Rome, where Egan was sent to study a few years after his 1957 ordination to the priesthood.
Dolan said ''more similarities come to mind than differences'' between Egan and O'Connor, another conservative and able administrator. ''He's also an imposing figure and a great preacher. When Ed Egan walks into a room, he doesn't go unnoticed.''
Egan was born in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park in 1932, birthplace of Earnest Hemingway, and ordained a priest for the Chicago archdiocese in 1957.
He studied theology at Rome's prestigious Gregorian Pontifical University, where he went on to obtain a doctorate in canon law.
He served from 1972 to 1985 on the Vatican tribunal that decides important juridical matters, including whether to grant annulments.
Once elevated to cardinal, Egan would vote in a conclave for a new pope following the death of a pontiff.
Egan has led the Bridgeport diocese since 1988. In his 12 years there, he gained attention for reorganizing diocesan schools and bringing local men into the priesthood.
He was able to raise millions of dollars in his annual bishop's appeal in the diocese, which embraces Fairfield County, one of the richest in the United States.
Tall and stately, with a stentorian voice, Egan is a fine speaker who often dispenses with a microphone.
Egan, however, raised controversy in his defense of the Bridgeport diocese against more than two dozen suits over alleged sexual molestation by local priests during the course of his tenure.
All but one of the cases were from before his time in the post, but the cases raised embarrassing questions over whether abuse was covered up.
In a 1997 suit, Egan insisted that the diocese was not responsible for the actions of the priests, who he said work for individual parishes.
''What we know about Bishop Egan is that he is very conservative and takes a very legalistic approach,'' said Linda Pieczynski, a spokeswoman for Call to Action, a Chicago-based Catholic church reform group.
''My understanding is that he is very personable, but also very rigid in his approach to issues.''
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