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N.Y. Cardinal O'Connor hints at successor.

VATICAN CITY - New York Cardinal John O'Connor apparently believes he has chosen his successor and has teased New York priests by hinting he may retire - though not quite yet.

O'Connor's apparent preferred heir is the newly consecrated New York auxiliary, Bishop Henry Mansell, archdiocesan chancellor since 1988, a man regarded in New York chancery circles as "very capable" and "awfully nice," but some other archdiocesan priests say he is "severe."

Mansell, 55, a dedicated jogger, has a reputation among some New York priests as a man who does not smile much, but he has been director of priest personnel, knows the priests and has a good working relationship with many of them. The new auxiliary knows lay issues, too; he is also a former archdiocesan chaplain to the Christian Family Movement.

The Bronx-born Mansell, ordained bishop by Pope John Paul II Jan. 6 in St. Peter's Basilica, will have a "unique "role, said O'Connor, once a new chancellor is appointed - implying perhaps Mansell would be O'Connor's deputy. O'Connor referred to Mansell as "a real bishop," despite the fact that the New York archdiocese has eight other auxiliaries.

Yet, it was at the dinner for 220 priests and friends in Rome's fashionable Cecilia Metella restaurant on Appia Antica that O'Connor tried hardest to preordain a successor. New York's senior auxiliary, Bishop Patrick V. Ahearn, had given the toast. (The mellifluous Ahearn, a man with a fine singing voice, normally rounds off his appearances at such functions by singing "Danny Boy." On this occasion he did not, because no one asked him to.)

Then, dinner ended, O'Connor spoke; he alternated between being direct and elliptical. He told his guests that the New York archdiocese was in "excellent shape" and could rest easily now that Mansell was "in situ."

The cardinal went on to thank Archbishop Justin Rigali, a senior U.S. member of the Roman curia, for his assistance in facilitating Mansell's appointment. O'Connor said that Rigali (a priest of the Los Angeles diocese), "is a man who understands the needs of the New York archdiocese." That done, the cardinal teased the audience.

O'Connor told the priests present that he hoped that evening that, as they read the prayers for compline, "you will read anew the Canticle of Simeon; I certainly will: |Now, Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace."

Was O'Connor suggesting he might retire? He teased by saying only he would not retire just yet (he is 75 in 1995 when, normally, his successor would be appointed).

His remarks left many priests present speculating over their drinks for the balance of the evening about what precisely was going on.

A subsequent Italian curial view was that, try as he might, O'Connor would not be able to preempt future maneuvering regarding the filling of a major U.S. see.

"Only Spellman was strong enough with the papacy to do that," said the Italian. The Italian may well be correct.

Few U.S. cardinals were closer to the current pope than Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, yet the man who succeeded him, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, apparently was not Krol's choice. Another factor is that, as any pope looks around to fill New York, one of the world's most prestigious sees, local priests (and Mansell is one) are not necessarily favorites for the job.

O'Connor is a priest of the Philadelphia archdiocese, though as military chaplain he was known to both Spellman and Spellman's successor, Cardinal Terence Cooke, both military vicars. And Spellman was ordained for Boston, though his handpicked successor, Cooke, was from the New York archdiocese.

Not even the apostolic delegate in Washington can necessarily determine who goes where: Spellman was not the favorite for New York of the then-apostolic delegate, Archbishop Amleto Cicognani. But Spellman was very close to Pius XII - and that is what mattered.

When it comes to filling appointments, popes are hard to second-guess - even by New York cardinals.
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Title Annotation:Bishop Henry Mansell
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 29, 1993
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