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Egan Spokesman Defends Aid to An Accused Priest

May 20, 2002 | New York Daily News Edward Cardinal Egan acted properly when he paid out thousands of dollars as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., to cover the legal bills and debts of a priest accused of sexual abuse, a spokesman said yesterday.

Egan's treatment of accused priest Gavin O'Connor was an "excellent example of how to deal with an allegation of abuse," Egan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Repeating earlier statements defending Egan's conduct, Zwilling said Egan was following church law by offering financial support to O'Connor after the priest was suspended.

O'Connor was accused in two lawsuits of molesting three boys from the same family from 1977 to 1985, including one who attempted suicide.

Court documents obtained by The Hartford Courant newspaper show the Bridgeport Diocese fought O'Connor's accusers in court for years.

But Zwilling dismissed that criticism, saying Egan agreed to pay the family a "very generous" settlement totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"If you look at the facts rather than the rhetoric, you will see that Bishop Egan handled it in a very proper, appropriate manner that respected all people concerned," Zwilling said.

Egan made no mention yesterday of thelatest sex-abuse controversy from thepulpit at St. Patrick's, where he saidhis usual 10:15 a.m. Mass.

Zwilling did not speak in detail about Egan's financial support of O'Connor, but he said Egan suspended O'Connor from the priesthood in January 1999. Egan personally delivered a petition to Rome seeking O'Connor's ouster, securing the Vatican's approval in an unusually quick seven months, Zwilling said.

"As part of the time period between the priest's suspension from the priesthood and his [removal], Bishop Egan did continue to support him financially, as is required by canon law," Zwilling said.

Egan covered some of O'Connor's personal debts "as part of his transition to the lay life," Zwilling said.

O'Connor was the only priest accused of misconduct removed by Egan during his time in Connecticut.

Worshipers at Egan's Mass celebrating the feast of the Pentecost yesterday were divided over whether Egan did the right thing.

In Brooklyn, meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Daily said yesterday he would not step down but will leave his fate up to the Pope when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 in September.

"I'll write a letter to the holy father and I will do whatever he says," Daily said at St. James Cathedral. "Whatever he decides will be God's will for me."

Daily told reporters on Friday that he would resign if his flock demanded it.

But parishioners overwhelmingly expressed support for Daily yesterday.

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