Cardinal Foley, ‘Voice’ Of Church, Dead at 76

Cardinal John Foley speaks at The Tablet’s Centennial Dinner in April, 2008.

DARBY, Pa. (CNS) – U.S. Cardinal John P. Foley, who spent more than two decades leading the Church’s social communications council and later worked for the Church in the Middle East, died Dec. 11 after a battle with leukemia. The cardinal, who had been residing at Villa St. Joseph, the home for retired Philadelphia archdiocesan priests, was 76.

Cardinal Foley’s media-friendly style and quick sense of humor shone in person and throughout the numerous speeches and homilies he delivered around the world. He often spoke of the joys of working for the Church, telling his audiences that while the pay often is not great “the benefits are out of this world.”

Last February he retired from his post as grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, a chivalric organization dedicated to supporting the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and to responding to the needs of Catholics in the Holy Land.

The cardinal’s body was to lie in repose for public viewing Dec. 15 at the chapel of St. Martin of Tours at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. His body will also lie in state Dec. 16 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia prior to the 2 p.m. funeral Mass.

Greg Erlandson, president of the Catholic Press Association, described the cardinal as a “bright, witty, humble man who served his church faithfully and well in many capacities.”

He said the cardinal was an “indefatigable supporter of the Catholic press” who always “remained a journalist at heart, and he believed strongly in the importance of this professional vocation for the life of the church.”

A graduate of the School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York, Cardinal Foley served as assistant editor of Philadelphia’s archdiocesan paper, The Catholic Standard & Times, in the 1960s, while he completed graduate studies in philosophy in Rome, where he also worked as a news reporter. His beat included covering the Second Vatican Council from 1963 to 1965.

In 1970, he was appointed editor of the archdiocesan paper, a position he held until Pope John Paul II named him an archbishop and appointed him head of the social communications council in 1984.

Cardinal Foley has received numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the Catholic Press Association’s highest prize, the St. Francis de Sales Award.

To many, the cardinal was the voice they heard giving commentary during the pope’s Christmas midnight Mass. For 25 years, beginning in 1984, his voice was heard not only in North America, but also Asia, Africa, Europe and, for many years, Australia.

The longtime journalist told Catholic News Service in 2007 that he always tried to take “a positive approach toward the means of communication and toward the people who run them.” For decades he helped media gain access to cover or rebroadcast Vatican events.

As head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications from 1984 to 2009, the cardinal took the lead in articulating Catholic policy with regard to the media. Under his leadership, the council issued separate documents on ethical standards in advertising, communications and the Internet. It also produced a document denouncing pornography.

The cardinal also said Church officials must be honest about the sex abuse situation. He said the Church’s reaction must be “to exercise virtue and, in the absence of virtue, exercise candor, which is a virtue itself. We have to be honest. We cannot deny what happened.”

In 2008, Cardinal Foley was the keynote speaker at The Tablet’s 100th anniversary banquet at the Brooklyn Marriott.

Born in the Philadelphia suburb of Darby on Nov. 11, 1935, he was ordained a priest in Philadelphia when he was 26.