Edwin Frederick O'Brien

Edwin Frederick O'Brien (born April 8, 1939) is an American prelate of the Catholic Church. He has been a cardinal since 2012. He headed the Order of the Holy Sepulchre from 2011 to 2019. He was the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore from 2007 to 2011 and the 7th Archbishop for the Military Services from 1997 to 2007.

Edwin Frederick O'Brien
Grand Master emeritus of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre
Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore
Rome Consistory Cardinal O'Brien.jpg
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
AppointedMarch 15, 2012
Term endedDecember 8, 2019
PredecessorJohn Patrick Foley
SuccessorFernando Filoni
Other post(s)Cardinal-Deacon of San Sebastiano al Palatino
OrdinationMay 29, 1965
by Francis Spellman
ConsecrationMarch 25, 1996
by John Joseph O'Connor
Created cardinalFebruary 18, 2012
by Benedict XVI
Personal details
Born (1939-04-08) April 8, 1939 (age 82)
Bronx, New York
DenominationRoman Catholic
Previous post(s)
("I Will Give You Shepherds")
Styles of
Edwin Frederick O'Brien
Coat of arms of Edwin Frederick O'Brien OESSJ.svg
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
SeeBaltimore (Emeritus)

Early life and educationEdit

Edwin O'Brien was born in 1939 in the Bronx, New York, to Edwin Frederick, Sr. and Mary Winifred O'Brien.[1] One of three children, he had two brothers, Ken and Tom, now deceased. He graduated from Our Lady of Solace School in 1953 and attended St. Mary's High School in Katonah from 1953 to 1957. He entered St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers in 1959, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts (1961), Master of Divinity (1964), and Master of Arts (1965) degrees.[1]


O'Brien was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Francis Spellman on May 29, 1965.[2] He served as a civilian chaplain at the United States Military Academy at West Point until 1970, when he became an army chaplain with the rank of Captain.[1] He also took flight training that required him to parachute out of airplanes.[3] O'Brien was a chaplain at Fort Bragg in North Carolina with the 82nd Division (1970–71) and in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (1971–72).[4] While in Vietnam, he was based in the jungle and flew with a Protestant minister by helicopter to minister to soldiers.[1] From 1972 to 1973, he was a post chaplain at Fort Gordon in Georgia.

In 1973, O'Brien was sent by Cardinal Terence Cooke to study in Rome at the Pontifical North American College. He is an alumnus of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas Angelicum from which he earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1976 with a dissertation entitled The Origin and Development of Moral Principles in the Theology of Paul Ramsey.[1] Upon his return to the United States, he served as both the vice-chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York and associate pastor at St. Patrick Cathedral from 1976 to 1981.[1] O'Brien coordinated Pope John Paul II's visit to New York in 1979 and was the archdiocesan Director of Communications from 1981 to 1983.[1] Between 1983 and 1985, he served as private secretary to Cardinal Cooke and then to his successor, Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor.[1]

O'Brien was raised to the rank of Honorary Prelate of His Holiness in 1986.[1] He served as rector of St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers from 1985 to 1989, and of the Pontifical North American College in Rome from 1990 to 1994. Returning to New York, he served another term as rector of St. Joseph's from 1994 to 1997.[4]

Episcopal careerEdit

On February 6, 1996, O'Brien was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of New York and Titular Bishop of Thizica by John Paul II.[2] He received his episcopal consecration on the following March 25 from Cardinal O'Connor, with Bishops Patrick Sheridan and John Nolan serving as co-consecrators, at St. Patrick's Cathedral.[2] He selected as his episcopal motto: Pastores Dabo Vobis, meaning, "I will give you shepherds" (Jeremiah 3:15).[1]

Archbishop for the Military ServicesEdit

O'Brien was named Coadjutor Archbishop for the Military Services on April 7, 1997.[2] He succeeded Joseph Thomas Dimino as Archbishop for the Military Services when Dimino retired on August 12. As archbishop, O'Brien served as head of the American Catholic military ordinariate, ministering to 1.5 million Catholics in the armed forces and providing oversight to 300 Catholic chaplains.[5]

During his decade-long tenure, he divided his time between visiting American troops and working with the North American College. He was involved in the case of Eugene Hamilton, a 25-year-old seminarian who was diagnosed with terminal cancer during the course of his studies.[6] O'Brien successfully petitioned the Vatican for Hamilton's early ordination and ordained him a priest only hours before he died.[6] In 1993, he initiated the cause of canonization for Emil Kapaun, a chaplain killed during the Korean War.[7]

From September 2005 to June 2006, O'Brien served in the additional role of the Vatican's coordinator for the Papal Visitation of Seminaries and Houses of Priestly Formation.[1][8] He expressed his personal opposition to admitting homosexuals to seminaries, a position he said was "based on 12 years' experience as rector of two U.S. seminaries".[9][10] His report also called for a stronger focus on moral theology, increased oversight of seminarians, and greater involvement of diocesan bishops in the formation process. He was recognized as being "instrumental in Catholic seminary reform in the wake of clergy sex abuse disclosures."[5]

In 2006, O'Brien noted that declining public support for the war in Iraq was also leading to a decrease in morale among the troops, adding, "The news only shows cars being blown up, but the soldiers see hospitals being built and schools opening."[11] By 2007, he believed that the state of the operation "compels an assessment of our current circumstances and the continuing obligation of the Church to provide a moral framework for public discussion."[6] He refused to "question the moral integrity of our military personnel," but added, "[O]ur nation must honestly assess what is achievable in Iraq using the traditional just war principles of 'probability of success' ... Our troops should remain in Iraq only as long as their presence contributes to a responsible transition."[6][12]

He opposed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007, saying it "would seek to impose a legislative mandate for military chaplains without considering the religious needs of all military members ... [and] may well result in less public prayer and marginalization of military chaplains."[13] He was appointed a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education in the Roman Curia in May 2007.[14]

Archbishop of BaltimoreEdit

Pope Benedict XVI appointed O'Brien the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore, Maryland, on July 12, 2007.[2] Recalling the call he received from the Apostolic Nunciature, O'Brien immediately accepted the appointment and later remarked, "I guess that's one thing I take from the military. When you're given an order, you accept."[15] He succeeded Cardinal William Henry Keeler, and was formally installed as Archbishop at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on the following October 1. As head of the nation's oldest diocese, he served as the spiritual leader of over 500,000 Catholics in Maryland and held the status of primus inter pares in the American hierarchy.

Commenting on O'Brien's appointment, The Baltimore Sun said, "He has leapt from military airplanes, served in jungles during the Vietnam War and travelled extensively to current battle zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. From his working-class roots ... to the upper echelons of Catholic power—carrying a Christian message of peace and love to some of the world's worst war-torn terrain".[16] Following his tour of the Archdiocese, O'Brien lamented the large presence of poverty and violence in Baltimore, saying, "I think anybody who wants to take a walk can find areas with very nice homes, well-kept lawns, good streets and sidewalks, and maybe 15 minutes later find themselves in a neighborhood that is just racked, torn apart, as if a war had just been fought."[17]

On June 29, 2008, O'Brien was invested with the pallium, a vestment worn by metropolitan bishops, by Pope Benedict at St. Peter's Basilica.[18] He dedicated the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden, which he has called a "sanctuary in a suffering city," in downtown Baltimore in October 2008.[19]

O'Brien's 3 years and 11 months as archbishop was one of the briefest terms in Baltimore's history. His departure also marked the first time the see had been vacant since 1947.

Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of JerusalemEdit

Cardinal Grand Master O'Brien, Pilgrimage OESSH in Rome 2013

On August 17, 2011, after Cardinal John Patrick Foley had reached retirement age, Cardinal Bertone asked O'Brien during a visit to Rome to take the position of Pro-Grand Master. O'Brien accepted the next day[20] and was appointed on August 29, 2011.[21]

Pope Benedict XVI elevated O'Brien to cardinal along with 21 others on February 18, 2012. O'Brien was created Cardinal-Deacon of San Sebastiano al Palatino, the same titular church held by previous Grand Master, Cardinal Foley. O'Brien was named Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem on March 15, 2012.[22][23]

On April 21, 2012, O'Brien was appointed a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.[24] He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2013 papal conclave that elected Pope Francis.[25]

O'Brien ceased as an elector when he reached 80 in 2019. Later that year, Pope Francis accepted his resignation as Grand Master on December 8.[26]



O'Brien opposes abortion, calling it the "greatest civil rights issue of our time" and saying, "[The right to life] will determine whether America remains a hospitable society: committed to caring for women in crisis and their unborn children; committed to caring for those with special needs; committed to caring for the elderly and the dying; or whether America betrays our heritage and the truths on which its founders staked its claim to independence."[27] During the 2008 presidential election, he lamented that the "clear and unchanged teaching of our Church from its earliest days has been so distorted in political debate and commentary,"[28] an indirect criticism of remarks made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Senator Joe Biden concerning the Church's teaching on abortion. In March 2009, he said he was both "disappointed and bewildered" by the decision of the University of Notre Dame to have President Barack Obama deliver the commencement speech and receive an honorary degree at the university's graduation ceremony, given Obama's support for legal abortion and embryonic stem cell research (which O'Brien opposes).[29]

Capital punishmentEdit

In 2008, O'Brien expressed his opposition to capital punishment, citing the Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae, although he had previously "thought it served a purpose."[30]

Legionaries of ChristEdit

As Archbishop of Baltimore, O'Brien was an outspoken critic of the religious institute the Legion of Christ,[31][32][33] criticizing its alleged practice of "blind allegiance",[31] lack of "respect for human dignity for each of its members",[32] and "heavily persuasive methods on young people, especially high schoolers, regarding vocations."[34]

In June 2008, O'Brien called for greater "transparency and accountability" from the Legionaries and its lay arm Regnum Christi to include consecrated and non-consecrated members.[31] The Vatican dissuaded him from expelling the Legionaries from his archdiocese and held discussions with the institute's superior general, Álvaro Corcuera Martínez del Río. He directed both groups to disclose all activities within the Archdiocese and directed them to refrain from spiritual direction of anyone under eighteen years of age. The Archbishop's antipathy to Regnum Christi as a lay movement and the increasing reports of scandalous behavior by its founder led to decreasing enrollment and then the closure of the Legion's Woodmont Academy.[35]

In February 2009, when the superiors of the Legionaries acknowledged that their founder, Marcial Maciel, had engaged in "inappropriate" behavior (including drug and sexual abuse as well as fathering a child[36])[37] O'Brien said that the institute must offer "full disclosure of [Maciel's] activities and those who are complicit in them, or knew of them, and of those who are still refusing to offer disclosure," adding that the institute's finances should also be subject to "objective scrutiny."[33] He called Maciel "a man with an entrepreneurial genius who, by systematic deception and duplicity, used our faith to manipulate others for his own selfish ends.".[32] He welcomed the Vatican's decision in March 2009 to conduct an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries and said that the institute's abolition "should be on the table."[33][a]

Just WarEdit

O'Brien has been an outspoken proponent of the Just war theory. Sometimes called the "Warrior Cardinal", he is seen as a controversial figure and is considered to have given moral justifications for the US military intervention in Iraq,[40][41] which had terrible consequences on the Christianity in Iraq with its almost annihilation ten years later under a Shiite regime allied with Teheran.[42][43] Early 2003, O'Brien preached to the soldiers at West Point at Mass: "I know that a lot of people have said that the Pope is against war with Iraq ... But even if he did, you are not bound by conscience to obey his opinion. However, you are bound in conscience to obey the orders of your Commander-in-Chief, and if he orders you to go to war, it is your duty to go to war".[44]

On March 25, 2003, a few days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in a letter to US Catholic military chaplains, O'Brien wrote: "Given the complexity of factors involved, many of which understandably remain confidential, it is altogether appropriate for members of our armed forces to presume the integrity of our [military] leadership and its judgments, and therefore to carry out their military duties in good conscience ... It is to be hoped that all factors which have led to our intervention will eventually be made public, and ... will shed helpful light upon our President's decision".[45] He did not endorse the war or the motivations behind it. Supporters of the war in Iraqi cited his positions.[46] He was criticized by opponents of the war for distancing himself from the position of the Holy See[47][48][49] and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.[50]

His spiritual direction proved effective in calming the doubts of soldiers, advising them that they can safely leave the responsibility for moral decision-making to the Government.[51] O'Brien believes that chaplains play an essential role in helping soldiers perform their fighting duties with a clear conscience,[52] and in easing relationships with local populations and to avoid such gross misconduct as the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.[53] O'Brien has complained that too few Catholics priests are serving in active duty, being replaced by chaplains of other faiths because the military disregards the significance of denominational affiliation.[54] He consistently rejected discussion with Catholic groups that asked chaplains "to call on all Catholic soldiers to leave Iraq.[55]

In July 2009, at the U.S. Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium, O'Brien explained Just War theories, saying "The moral end we seek ought to shape the means we use", that the U.S. must "move beyond nuclear deterrence as rapidly as possible" and urging the world leaders to "stay focused on the destination of a nuclear-weapons-free world and on the concrete steps that lead there."[56][57] In September 2013, when President Barack Obama was considering the use of military force in Syria, O'Brien said that "whatever we do will contribute to peace in that part of the world",[58] contradicting the views of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Syria.[59]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In 2010 the Vatican agreed to a request by the consecrated lay branch for their own Apostolic Visitator: "The Holy Father will send a visitator to the consecrated members of the "Regnum Christi" Movement, who have insistently requested this."[38] At their own request, all the lay consecrated have become more autonomous. In 2013 they elected a general director and a five-woman council, each with a term of six years. They have developed an eight-year discernment process for consecrated women.[39]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "His Eminence Edwin Cardinal O'Brien". Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Edwin Frederick Cardinal O'Brien". Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  3. ^ "Edwin F. O'Brien: Highlights". The Baltimore Sun.
  4. ^ a b "Pope Accepts Resignation of Archbishop Dimino; Names Archbishop O'Brien to Succeed Him in Military Archdiocese". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. August 12, 1997.
  5. ^ a b "Historical Perspectives, The rich heritage of Baltimore". Cathedral of Mary our Queen. Archived from the original on September 28, 2013. Retrieved September 25, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Palmo, Rocco (July 12, 2007). "Balto Goes Gotham". Whispers in the Loggia.
  7. ^ Riggs, Christopher (July 17, 2008). "Canonization cause formally opened for Father Kapaun, Korean War hero". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on May 15, 2012.
  8. ^ Filteau, Jerry (September 16, 2006). "Homosexuality question for seminary visitations sparks flap". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on September 17, 2005.
  9. ^ "Archbishop: Seminaries should not accept even celibate homosexuals". Catholic News Service. September 7, 2005. Archived from the original on September 8, 2005.
  10. ^ "Archbishop says he's not speaking for Vatican on gays in seminaries". Catholic News Service. September 30, 2005. Archived from the original on October 5, 2005.
  11. ^ Linskey, Regina (December 14, 2006). "Iraq: More deaths, few stories of hope leave many asking what's next". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on December 30, 2006.
  12. ^ Asher, Julie (May 30, 2007). "U.S. must honestly assess what is achievable in Iraq, says archbishop". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on January 18, 2013.
  13. ^ O'Brien, Nancy Frazier (October 4, 2006). "Proposal on chaplains' prayers could hurt military, archbishop says". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on October 10, 2006.
  14. ^ "Pope names North Americans to two Vatican offices". Catholic News Service. May 24, 2007. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013.
  15. ^ O'Brien, Nancy Frazier (July 12, 2007). "Cardinal Keeler retires; Archbishop O'Brien succeeds him in Baltimore". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013.
  16. ^ Donovan, Doug; Fuller, Nicole (July 13, 2007). "O'Brien spent past decade ministering to military". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved April 6, 2019.
  17. ^ "Baltimore's new archbishop talks about hopes, challenges". Catholic News Service. January 11, 2008. Archived from the original on May 21, 2008.
  18. ^ Glatz, Carol (June 30, 2008). "Pope gives palliums to archbishops, says church's mission is to unite". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on July 8, 2008.
  19. ^ Kelly, Jacques (October 24, 2008). "An urban 'sanctuary'". The Baltimore Sun.[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ Archbishop O'Brien holds press conference on appointment to Rome on YouTube
  21. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine, 29.08.2011" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. August 29, 2011. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  22. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine, 15.03.2012" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. March 15, 2012. Retrieved April 6, 2019.
  23. ^ Pattison, Mark (January 6, 2012). "Cardinal-designate O'Brien used to new and varied assignments". Catholic Review. Catholic News Service. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  24. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine, 21.04.2012" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. April 21, 2012. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  25. ^ "List of Cardinal Electors". Zenit. March 12, 2013. Retrieved April 6, 2019.
  26. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine, 08.12.2019" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. December 8, 2019. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  27. ^ Palmo, Rocco (October 1, 2008). "O'Brien O'Baltimore: The Maryland Tradition, Vol. XV, Day One". Whispers in the Loggia.
  28. ^ Palmo, Rocco (October 15, 2008). "The Way of Life". Whispers in the Loggia.
  29. ^ Matysek, Jr., George P (April 7, 2009). "Archbishop is 'disappointed,' 'bewildered' by honor to Obama". The Catholic Review. Archived from the original on April 13, 2009.
  30. ^ "Death Penalty – Testimony of Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien". Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore. August 19, 2008. Archived from the original on February 5, 2013. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  31. ^ a b c Allen, Jr., John Allen (June 12, 2008). "Baltimore archbishop demands greater accountability from Legionaries of Christ". National Catholic Reporter.
  32. ^ a b c Matysek, Jr., George P (February 25, 2009). "Baltimore archbp concerned about Legionaries". National Catholic Reporter.
  33. ^ a b c Allen, Jr., John Allen (April 3, 2009). "Abolition of Legionaries should be 'on the table'". National Catholic Reporter.
  34. ^ Allen, Jr., John (June 27, 2008). "Legionaries of Christ: Legionaries face restrictions in Baltimore". National Catholic Reporter.
  35. ^ "Woodmont Academy to close due to enrollment issues". Catholic Review. April 12, 2011. Retrieved April 12, 2011.
  36. ^ Alessi, Scott (February 22, 2009). "Revelations of founder's double life rocks religious order". Our Sunday Visitor. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011.
  37. ^ "Legionaries of Christ acknowledge founder's 'inappropriate' behavior". Catholic News Agency. February 3, 2009.
  38. ^ "Comunicato della Santa Sede, 01.05.2010" (Press release). Holy See Press Office. May 1, 2010. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  39. ^ "Graduate students help with renewal of religious order". Archived from the original on July 3, 2015. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  40. ^ "Edwin O'Brien appointed Cardinal, in a confusing blow to the core non-violent message of Christianity". January 7, 2012.
  41. ^ "A New Warrior Cardinal". January 8, 2012.
  42. ^ "How the Iraq War Became a War on Christians". May 9, 2013.
  43. ^ "Christianity Could Become Extinct in Iraq as Islamists Drive Out Believers". April 29, 2013.
  44. ^ "What are we doing to halt this genocide?". The Catholic Weekly. November 19, 2015. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  45. ^ "Letter from Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien". March 25, 2003. Archived from the original on August 1, 2011.
  46. ^ "Authority, Lies, and War : Democracy and the Development of Just War Theory (in "Theological Studies"; Vol. 67, Issue 2, page 388)" (PDF). June 2006.
  47. ^ "At Odds with the Pope: Legitimate Authority & Just Wars". May 23, 2003.
  48. ^ "The Pope, the President, and How U.S. Catholics Engaged the War Effort (in "Sign of Peace", Vol. 2-2, pages 4-5), Easter 2003" (PDF). Catholic Peace Fellowship.
  49. ^ "Bishops called to speak out against Iraq war". December 24, 2004.
  50. ^ "Statement of Most Rev. Arthur N. Tafoya, Bishop of Pueblo". February 15, 2003. Archived from the original on August 1, 2011. A preemptive war against Iraq is an unjust war.
  51. ^ Ferrisi, Sabrina Arena (February 1, 2009). "Winning the war on terror". Legatus Magazine. Archbishop [Edwin] O'Brien reminded me that the Catechism says whenever your country sends you into battle— if history shows that conflict to be unjust — the final judgment will be on the leaders who sent us there.
  52. ^ Cornell, Tom (November 17, 2008). "The Chaplain's Dilemma: Can pastors in the military serve God and government?". America.
  53. ^ O'Brien, Edwin F. (October 25, 2007). "The Role of Military Chaplains". Catholic Culture.
  54. ^ "Dismissing Priests?". Catholic Review. Archdiocese of Baltimore. December 4, 2010.
  55. ^ "A call to repentance on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq". National Catholic Reporter. March 19, 2013.
  56. ^ "Nuclear Weapons and Moral Questions: The Path to Zero". National Catholic Reporter. July 30, 2009.
  57. ^ "U.S. must quickly move beyond nuclear deterrence, Archbishop O'Brien urges". Catholic News Agency. July 30, 2009.
  58. ^ "Cardinal O'Brien says Syria needs urgent prayer". Catholic Herald. September 5, 2013. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  59. ^ "U.S. Military Action in Syria Could Spark World War, Syrian Bishop Warns". National Catholic Register. August 28, 2013.

External linksEdit

Academic offices
Preceded by
Lawrence M. Purcell
Rector of the Pontifical North American College
Succeeded by
Timothy M. Dolan
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
John Patrick Foley
  Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
2011 - 2019
Succeeded by
Fernando Filoni
Preceded by
William Henry Keeler
Archbishop of Baltimore
Succeeded by
William E. Lori
Preceded by
Joseph Thomas Dimino
Archbishop for the Military Services
1997 – 2007
Succeeded by
Timothy Broglio
Preceded by
Auxiliary Bishop of New York
1996 – 1997
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Alfonso Nava Carreón
Bishop of Tizica
Titular Archbishop of Thizica
1996 – 1998
Succeeded by
Louis Dicaire
Bishop of Thizica