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Cormac Murphy-O'Connor (born 24 August 1932) is a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster and former President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. He was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in the 2001 Consistory. His resignation was submitted upon reaching his 75th birthday and was accepted on 3 April 2009 when Pope Benedict appointed Vincent Nichols as the new Archbishop.

By virtue of his position as Archbishop of Westminster, he was sometimes referred to as the Catholic Primate of England and Wales. However, though the holders, within the Church of England, of the posts of Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York are called, respectively, "Primate of All England" and "Primate of England", the title of primate has not been accorded to the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Early life

Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was born in Reading, Berkshiremarker, the fifth son of George and Ellen Murphy-O'Connor, who emigrated from County Corkmarker in Irelandmarker before World War I and married in 1921. Two of his uncles, one aunt, two cousins, and two of his brothers, Brian and Patrick, also entered religion. His youngest brother, John, was a regular officer in the Royal Artillery who died at age 32 for reasons which have never been clarified; he has two other siblings, James (a doctor and rugby player) and Catherine. After attending Presentation Collegemarker in Reading, and Prior Park Collegemarker in Bathmarker, Murphy-O'Connor then began his studies for the priesthood in 1950 at the Venerable English Collegemarker in Romemarker, where he received a degree in theology. Thereafter, he earned a licentiate in philosophy and a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian Universitymarker. He was ordained on 28 October 1956, by Valerio Cardinal Valeri. For the next decade he did pastoral work in Portsmouthmarker and Farehammarker.

Church career

Parish priest

In 1966, Murphy-O'Connor became the private secretary to Bishop Derek Worlock of Portsmouthmarker. In September 1970, he was appointed parish priest of the Immaculate Conception church in Portswoodmarker, Southamptonmarker. Soon afterwards, in late 1971, he was appointed rector of the Venerable English College, his alma mater. As rector he hosted the Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Donald Coggan, on his historic visit to Pope Paul VI in 1977. He was elevated to the rank of Monsignor on 10 March 1972.


On 17 November 1977, Murphy-O'Connor was named Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. He received his episcopal consecration on the following 21 December from Bishop Michael Bowen, with Archbishop George Dwyer and Bishop Anthony Emery serving as co-consecrators. He held important positions among the Roman bishops of Europe and has also been consistently influential in ecumenical work; from 1982 to 2000 he was Co-Chairman of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). In 2000 he was awarded a Lambeth degree Doctorate in Divinity by then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, in recognition of his work for Christian unity.


Murphy-O'Connor was appointed the tenth Archbishop of Westminster, and thus head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, on 15 February 2000, and in November of that year he was elected President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

In the consistory of 21 February 2001, he was created Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria sopra Minervamarker by Pope John Paul II.

As a new cardinal he was appointed to four Curial organisations: the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, the Pontifical Council for the Study of Organisational and Economic Problems of the Holy See, and the Pontifical Council for the Family. He also sits on the Pontifical Councils for Culture and for Laity, and is currently secretary of the Vox Clara commission which oversees the translating of liturgical texts from Latin into English – all in all an unusually large number of Curial appointments. He will remain active in these positions until his 80th birthday in 2012.

In August 2001, Murphy-O'Connor was created a Freeman of the City of Londonmarker.

In 2002, in Westminster Abbeymarker he was the first cardinal to read prayers at an English Royal Funeral Service (for the Queen Mother) since 1509. In 2002 he had his portrait painted for Westminster Cathedral by Royal artist Christian Furr. He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI.

On 28 October 2006, Murphy-O'Connor celebrated 50 years of ordination with a Jubilee Mass in Westminster Cathedral.


Shortly before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, Murphy-O'Connor submitted his resignation as Archbishop of Westminster to Pope Benedict XVI, who asked that Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor remain in his position "until he chooses otherwise". The Cardinal said in a subsequent letter to his clergy, "I am very content to accept the Holy Father’s request." On 3 April 2009, Pope Benedict appointed Vincent Nichols as Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's replacement. Thus, since all of Cardinal Murphy O'Connor's predecessors died in office, he is the first to become Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster. He now lives in semi-retirement in Duke's Avenue, Chiswick, London.

On 30 October 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor as a member of the Congregation for Bishops, where he will serve until his 80th birthday. It is unusual to receive such an appointment after his retirement.


Abuse scandal

Murphy-O'Connor found himself subject to public scrutiny regarding a priest in his diocese when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. During this time it was brought to his attention that a priest, Michael Hill, was a child sexual abuser. Instead of reporting Hill to the police, Murphy-O'Connor allegedly allowed the crime to be covered up and transferred Hill to Gatwick Airport chapel, where the Cardinal believed he would not be able to molest children. In 1997, Hill was finally convicted as a child molester and jailed for sexually assaulting nine children. After three years in jail, Hill was given another five years for assaulting three other boys. In 2000, when O'Connor ascended to the status of Archbishop of Westminster, the case became known to the general public.

Employment issues

In 2006, it was alleged in the Daily Mail that Murphy-O'Connor had fired his press aide Stephen Noon for being gay, believing that Noon's sexuality was “incompatible” with his position in the Church. As yet, this has not been tested in a court of law or tribunal.

In July 2006, his Press Secretary Austen Ivereigh resigned over allegations that a former girlfriend had had an abortion.

Christian universalism

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor can be classified as a Christian universalist, a position that he reiterated in 2005 is entirely compatible with Roman teaching. He has expressed his personal hope for universal salvation, saying "I cannot think of heaven without thinking of being in communion with all the saints and with all the people I’ve loved on this earth."

Response to Summorum Pontificum

In November 2007, Murphy-O'Connor issued a letter to the clergy of his diocese regarding Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum relaxing of the restrictions on the use of the 1962 Missal (commonly known as the "Tridentine Rite"). The letter has been received as a challenge to Pope Benedict's intentions to remove the need for priests to obtain permission from their Bishops before saying the "Extraordinary Form" (as the Tridentine Rite has been called by Pope Benedict and others). Damien Thompson, the editor of the Catholic Herald, commented that Murphy-O'Connor "begins by announcing that the Pope's purpose in removing restrictions on the Tridentine Mass was 'to restore unity within the Church – both to enable those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity and to offer those who have not yet accepted the liturgical reforms and teachings of the Second Vatican Council a way back to full communion with the Church.'"

According to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, author of the conservative Catholic blog What Does the Prayer Really Say? , Murphy-O'Connor's comments constitute "a horribly narrow and inaccurate way of reading the Holy Father’s provisions." Zuhlsdorf claims that comments by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith that "some dioceses, even interpretative documents which inexplicably aim at putting limits on the Pope’s Motu Proprio" are motivated by "pride, one of the gravest sins" is a response to documents such as the one issued by Murphy-O'Connor.

AIDS prevention

On 3 December 2006, Murphy-O'Connor issued a response to a statement made by Prime Minister Tony Blair on World AIDS Day (1 December 2006) in which Blair said, "The danger is if we have a sort of blanket ban from religious hierarchy saying it's wrong to do it, then you discourage people from doing it in circumstances where they need to protect their lives." In response to this Murphy-O'Connor said, "I think what I would like to say to the prime minister is that it would be much better if he used that money to provide more antiretroviral drugs – medicines – for the millions of children, women who are affected. I speak to bishops in Africa and they tell me that their dioceses are flooded with condoms and I said, 'Well, has it affected?' They said, 'Well, sad to say it has meant more promiscuity and more AIDS'".

Illegal immigrants

On 7 May 2007, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor addressed a crowd of illegal immigrants in Trafalgar Squaremarker in support of the Strangers into Citizens campaign, which is calling for a path into citizenship for undocumented workers. Previously he had commissioned major research on the pastoral challenges of migrants in his parishes and this had been published to front page coverage in The Times and leader coverage internationally as The Ground of Justice written by Francis Davis and Jolanta Stankeviciute who are now based at the Las Casas Institute, Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford.

Gay adoption

In early 2007 Murphy-O'Connor sent a letter to Blair over the impending regulations that the rights of gay couples extend to an equal opportunity relating to adoption. He said that the law would force people to "act against the teaching of the Church and their own consciences" with regard to Catholic adoption agencies and requested an exemption from the law. The Cardinal continued, saying, "We believe it would be unreasonable, unnecessary and unjust discrimination against Catholics for the government to insist that if they wish to continue to work with local authorities, Catholic adoption agencies must act against the teaching of the Church and their own consciences by being obliged in law to provide such a service."

Family planning

Murphy-O’Connor has denounced contraception and abortion many times. In February 2008 Murphy-O'Connor sacked the board of St John and St Elizabeth’s, a partly NHS funded Catholic hospital, after it had permitted a GP’s surgery to move onto the site and administer family planning.

Embryo Bill

In March 2008 Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor joined Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien of Scotlandmarker in opposing the Government's proposed Embryology Bill. The Government had instructed its MPs to vote for the bill which angered some Catholic members, Murphy-O'Connor said "Certainly, there are some aspects of this bill on which I believe there ought to be a free vote, because Catholics and others will want to vote according to their conscience." The Government gave in to the pressure and promised to allow MPs a free vote.


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  2. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor Westminster Cathedral by Christian Furr
  3. The Holy Father invites Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor to continue in his present pastoral ministry
  4. Archbishop defends paedophile move
  5. Gay group slams “sickening hypocrisy” of Cardinal
  6. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor Speaks of his Hope of Universal Salvation
  7. What Does The Prayer Really Say?»Blog Archive » Interview with Archbp. Ranjith: those who resist Summorum Pontificum guilty of the sin of pride
  8. Whispers in the Loggia: Urbi et Orbi, TB Edition
  9. Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford page
  10. No 10 mulls Catholic opt-out from gay rights law | Politics |
  11. Archbishop orders Catholic hospital board to resign in ethics dispute
  12. Cardinal adds to pressure for free vote over embryo bill -

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