Special interview with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor after audience with Pope Benedict XVI
posted on 10 October 2006
Following a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on Monday, 9 October 2006, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, was interviewed by Gerard O’Connell, a Rome based journalist.
Key points of the interview (The full interview can be downloaded from the bottom of this page)
Q. This morning you had your first private meeting with the Pope since he was elected on 19 April 2005. You asked for this meeting, why?
A. I wanted to see him as the president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. I wanted to discuss with him the weaknesses and strengths of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the particular things that concern us today, our relationship ecumenically. … I described the weaknesses and strengths of the Catholic community. The weaknesses: that fewer people are going to mass, there are less priests, the pressure and tensions of secular society. The strengths are that we count now more as Church than we did before and that, in a sense, if we could have more articulate lay people able to express their faith we are in a very good position to do so. People respect the Catholic Church, even if they do not agree with its teaching in the moral sphere. They recognize the rationality here and I think, increasingly they see that what the Catholic Church teaches, it teaches it because it is true…. When I first thought of asking for this meeting, I had been thinking also about the possibility of his visit to our country, but then I got a letter from the Vatican saying he would not be able to do so in 2007. So that question did not come up very strongly in our discussion.
Q. So you didn’t issue the invitation again.
A. No, I just mentioned the invitation I had given him, and he smiled. I didn’t feel it was right to re-issue the invitation, as I thought it might have been a bit of an imposition to do so this time, especially after he had made it clear that it was too difficult for him to come in 2007.
Q. Your Eminence, you have been to Moscow and met the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II for the first time. What is your impression of the man?
A. I was very impressed with the Patriarch. He seemed to me not only very friendly but also very open and glad to see me - a cardinal of the Catholic Church. I had not met him before, but I thought the friendliness between us was very evident at the meeting, even though we had to talk through interpreters. I felt he was genuinely glad to meet me. He was eager to discuss the things we share as Christians and eager to talk about the way we should give common witness in Europe to the values we represent as Churches; the values regarding family, ethical and bio-ethical questions, and the question of being a Christian in a secular culture. Those were the main things we talked about. I was very impressed by the way he insisted that we have so much to share and that we need to support one another. It’s quite clear that he wants better relationships with the Catholic Church. He told me he was very pleased that the presidents of the Catholic Bishops Conferences in Europe were holding their meeting in St Petersburg. He sent a message to that meeting, which we read out, and he also sent two observers to the meeting, the same two were also present at our meeting at his official residence in Moscow
Q. In mid-November I understand you are going to have a truly historic meeting in Leeds where for the first time since the Church of England came into existence all the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales will meet all the members of the House of Bishops. Could you tell me something about this event?
A. The idea was there at the beginning of ARCIC, the same idea returned at the end of the 1990s when a new body was set up - the IARCUUM (International Anglican –Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission). Then four years ago, I asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, when I first met him if he could help arrange this bi-lateral meeting in England and Wales, and he agreed. So now we are having it.
Q. Well it’s good to have dialogue and to talk, but the reality is that the Anglicans, by their decision to ordain women priests and now bishops, have opted to travel down a road that is unacceptable to the Catholic Church, as stated clearly by three popes: Paul VI, John Paul II and now Benedict XVI and against the advice of friendly people like Cardinals Cassidy, Kasper and yourself and so one could say that the dialogue has reached an impasse today.
A. An impasse, a plateau… yes, and the way ahead is very difficult to see. There isn’t a central focus of authority in the Anglican Communion and that is a very big problem. At the same time one has to acknowledge that although we are on a plateau as regards the theological dialogue now, nevertheless that theological dialogue has revealed some very important things: the agreement on the Eucharist and on ministry, justification by faith so, if you wish, the quarrels of the Reformation period are theologically at an end. And yet we have these new questions that have come up. But I do think, particularly in our own country, there are matters in which we should be cooperating together in terms of Christian witness. As we did recently, for example, when we took a stance on the question of assisted suicide, and there the combination of Catholics and Anglicans and other Christians was very powerful. And there should be many other social issues on which we should stand together and give witness. So I think that the Archbishop of Canterbury and myself and others in Churches Together in England should speak out more and more on such issues. And we should do so particularly with the Anglicans, who are after all the established Church. I think that the Anglicans and Catholics are in a way by far the largest Churches in England today, in terms of each having about the same number of practicing Christians. This was something unthinkable 100 years ago.