New York pays respects to defender of the papal faith

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The Independent US

New York mourned Cardinal John O'Connor yesterday, a man who led the Catholic church in the city but also held some controversial views.

O'Connor, 80, died late on Wednesday night. He had been ill since surgery for a brain tumour last year and his condition had been getting worse.

As the spiritual leader of over 2 million Catholics in the New York area - and a papal standard-bearer for the whole of America - O'Connor had been an influential voice on political and religious issues, and had been a prominent defender of the conservative views espoused by Pope John Paul II. His strict opposition to abortion, and his conservative attitude to homosexuality, made him the target of frequent attacks from New York's left wing. But he was also seen as a defender of the rights of working Americans and an opponent of the death penalty, and was much loved among the city's large Catholic population.

New Yorkers laid flowers outside St Patrick's Cathedral yesterday, around the corner from his residence where he died. He will lie in state until his funeral on Monday. "There will be opportunities for public mourning and for people to come and pay their respects," said a spokesman.

The funeral will attract a parade of some of the most influential figures in the city, among them Rudolph Giuliani, the city's Mayor and a candidate for the state's Senate seat.

"With a deep sense of personal loss, I have received the news of the death of Cardinal John O'Connor," said the Pope in a telegram. He said O'Connor was a "deeply spiritual man, a warm and zealous pastor, an effective teacher of the faith and a vigorous defender of human life".

President Bill Clinton, whose wife, Hilary, plans to run against Mr Giuliani, said: "For more than 50 years, he reached out with uncommon fortitude to minister to the needs of American Catholics," he said in a statement on Wednesday night. The State's Governor, George Pataki, called the late Cardinal "a man of remarkable faith and spirit".

Several possible successors have been suggested: Bishop Sean O'Malley of Fall River Massachusetts, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the Archdiocese of Military Services, Bishop Henry Mansell of Buffalo New York, Archbishop Justin Rigali of St Louis, Missouri and Auxiliary Bishop William Francis Murphy of Boston.