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While it has often been said that the papacy of Pope John Paul II is largely out-of-step with social, economic and political conditions in the west, Cardinal John O'Connor, the redoubtable archbishop of New York who died May 3 at age 80, did his very best to make sure every one of America's 55 million Catholics was at least aware of the official Vatican line, even if they chose to overlook it. Described by the Watergate journalist, Carl Bernstein, as 'militantly pro-Wojtyla'—a reference to O'Connor's admiration for Pope John Paul II—O'Connor was a high-profile prince of the Church of the old-school, acutely conscious of the dignity of his office, as physically large as he was mentally combative, and sure in everything that he was right. If O'Connor ever doubted the power of the authoritarian, muscular Catholicism that he embraced, he never admitted it. He had scarcely drawn breath after his appointment in January 1984 as leader of America's most prestigious Catholic diocese when he launched into the pre-election political battle with a headline-grabbing attack on the Democrat candidate for vice-president, Geraldine Ferraro. As a Catholic and a member of his diocese, Mrs. Ferraro could not, O'Connor stated, make a distinction between her private views on abortion and her support for it as a legislator. He believed that her position was precisely the sort of morally relative, liberal stance that was damaging the church. Given that his target was the first woman to stand for the White House in American history, O'Connor's attack did much to establish his traditionalist credentials on both spiritual and social matters. Feminists never forgave him—or had cause to do so—but Ferraro need not have felt especially singled out. Soon ...

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May 2000

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