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Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
The life of Cardinal O'Connor
Pope John Paul II and Cardinal John O'Connor
Pope John Paul II shakes hands with Cardinal John O'Connor
By religious affairs correspondent Jane Little

Cardinal John O'Connor was America's most well-known Catholic leader whose outspoken sermons caused him to cross swords with many a politician.

He was a staunch defender of Catholic teaching on abortion, homosexuality and marriage - a bulwark in a city more prone to liberal views.

But he also described himself as liberal on social issues, and was much praised for his work with the poor.

He was born into a working class family in Philadelphia. His father was a gold leaf painter and a union man, a legacy he passed on to the future archbishop who once joked that he wanted to have a union label on his casket.

He was ordained in 1945 and joined the Navy as a chaplain in 1952. He spent the next 27 years in the forces, rising to the rank of chief of Chaplains of the Navy.

He published a controversial book supporting US policy on Vietnam, which he later wished he had rewritten. But he never shied away from controversy.

Controversial views

Archbishop of New York for 16 years, his office was highly politicised. He once warned Catholic politicians who supported abortion rights, that they faced excommunication.

He also successfully challenged a city ruling that would have required the church to give equal rights to gays and lesbians.

Such views were anathema to many in a church which has repeatedly rebelled against Rome.

But despite his bullish manner, Cardinal O'Connor was regarded with great affection by many Americans, both Catholic and non-Catholic who are now mourning the loss of a New York institution.

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