Beverley O'Connor

Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, (born August 24, 1932) is a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. He was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in the 2001 Consistory.

By virtue of his position as the Archbishop of Westminster, he is sometimes referred to as the Primate of England and Wales. However, this title traditionally belongs to the Archbishop of Canterbury as "Primate of All England" and the Archbishop of York as "Primate of England". Since the English Reformation these dioceses belong to the Church of England and 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, Berkshire, the fifth son of George and Ellen Murphy-O'Connor, who emigrated from County Cork in Ireland 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 College in Reading, and Prior Park College in Bath, Murphy-O'Connor then began his studies for the priesthood in 1950 at the Venerable English College in Rome, where he received a degree in theology. Thereafter, he earned a licentiate in philosophy and a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He was ordained on October 28, 1956, by Cardinal Valerio Valeri. For the next decade he did pastoral work in Portsmouth and Fareham.


In 1966, Murphy-O'Connor became the private secretary to Bishop Derek Worlock of Portsmouth. In September 1970, he was appointed parish priest in Portswood, Southampton. 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 March 10, 1972.

On November 17, 1977, Murphy-O'Connor was named Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. He received his episcopal consecration on the following December 21 from Bishop Michael Bowen, with Archbishop George Dwyer and Bishop Anthony Emery serving as co-consecrators. He held important positions among the Catholic 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 February 15, 2000, and in November of that year he was elected President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. In the consistory of February 21, 2001, he was created Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria sopra Minerva 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.

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

In 2002, in Westminster Abbey he was the first cardinal to read prayers at an English Royal Funeral Service (for Princess Margaret) since 1509 and later that year, at Sandringham, he became the first Roman Catholic clergyman since 1688 to preach a sermon to the reigning Monarch of Great Britain. 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.

Murphy-O'Connor can be classified as a Christian universalist, a position that he reiterated in 2005 is entirely compatible with Catholic 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."

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

On May 7, 2007, Murphy-O'Connor addressed a crowd of illegal immigrants in Trafalgar Square in support of the Strangers into Citizens campaign, which is calling for a path into citizenship for undocumented workers.

Shortly before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, O'Connor submitted his resignation as Archbishop of Westminster to Pope Benedict XVI, who asked that Murphy-O'Connor remain in his position "until he chooses otherwise". The English primate said in a subsequent letter to his clergy, "I am very content to accept the Holy Father’s request..

Role as Archbishop

Allegations of abuse

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 become known to the general public.

Issues with employees

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.

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.

Role In Politics

AIDS prevention

On December 3, 2006, Murphy-O'Connor issued a response to a statement made by Prime Minister Tony Blair on World AIDS Day (December 1, 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'" .

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 Scotland 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 has promised to allow MPs a free vote.



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