Though the Vatican has made no announcement, it became increasingly clear Thursday that Bishop Edward Egan of Bridgeport, Conn., a former auxiliary bishop in New York, is likely to succeed Cardinal John O'Connor.
The Vatican's Congregation for Bishops is known for its ability to surprise, including the appointment of O'Connor to New York in 1984, which no one had predicted. But a source who was close to O'Connor said that in recent months Egan's name had circulated through the archdiocese as Pope John Paul II's choice for the next archbishop of New York.
Egan avoided comment.
"The bishop is paying attention to the business of bishop, and he's doing what he would have done today anyway," said Tom Drohan, his spokesman. "We recognize that speculation is rampant. We're not in a position to make any comment on the speculation."
Egan, 68, was born in Oak Park, Ill. Ordained in 1957, he spent most of his career on the staff of the Archdiocese of Chicago, teaching moral theology and canon law, and serving from 1971 to 1985 on the Roman Rota, the Vatican's second-highest judicial body. He became auxiliary bishop of New York in 1985 and bishop of Bridgeport in 1988.
The shape of his career, dominated by years in Rome, did not escape the notice of liberal Catholics.
"He is extremely conservative and is legalistic in his approach and has kind of followed the company path, in terms of the latest appointments to bishop, in that they all seem to go through [work in] Rome," said Linda Pieczynski, a spokeswoman for Call to Action, a progressive Catholic group based in Chicago.
In New York, his responsibility was archdiocesan schools.
"The thing that always impressed me about the bishop was that he was willing to learn and was willing to ask questions," said Nora Murphy, assistant superintendent for communications and marketing for the schools. "He is a man who is in the best sense of the word a learner."
In Bridgeport he has weathered controversy, including legal action against him and the diocese over sexual abuse by a priest and the construction of a high-rise dormitory by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., where Egan sits on the board.
Rabbi Jack Bemporad, who ran the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University, called Egan brilliant.
"He has incredible talent," Bemporad said. "He has probably one of the finest educations of any clergyman in this country. He's a consummate musician [on the piano]. He's totally at home in the classic texts, in the original languages. He is extraordinarily fluent. He is a dynamic and excellent speaker."
Still, Bemporad said, New York will require him to grow, as it would any bishop coming from a small diocese, in such areas as fund-raising, coping with conflicts and living in the fishbowl.
Egan has a good relationship with the Jewish community in Bridgeport, but this would be different, Bemporad said. "New York is the intellectual center and the nerve center and the action center for the Jewish community," he said, "and I think that's going to require a good deal of work."