CARDINAL James A. Hickey, whose funeral Mass is today, headed the Archdiocese of Washington for two decades, from 1980 to 2000. During that time, he ministered to this city's powerful and testified before Congress, yet at the same time created an extensive network of church social services designed to help the area's homeless, aged, mentally ill and refugee populations, vastly expanding what had been a relatively small charitable effort. As a result, the cardinal was much admired as a man who shunned the temptations of power in the nation's capital in order to help the capital's poor.
Cardinal Hickey was equally admired in his Roman Catholic archdiocese -- perhaps the nation's most partisan collection of parishes -- for his refusal to play anyone's political game. He appeared before Congress after nuns whom he had known when he was bishop of Cleveland were murdered by U.S.-backed paramilitary forces in El Salvador. He was also the first church leader to publicly acknowledge a priest's death from AIDS and one of the first to publicly recognize the problem of clergy members who sexually abuse children. At the same time, he refused to join other bishops in vocalizing opposition to the Persian Gulf War, stuck closely to the church's traditional teachings on marriage and contraception, and in general refused to be swayed by the political fashions of the moment. By staying out of partisan politics, he won admirers across the political spectrum and among congregants and noncongregants alike, as well as the devotion of those he served, not a small feat in the Archdiocese of Washington.