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Cardinal's Biography

posted on 11 January 2005

CARDINAL CORMAC MURPHY-O'CONNOR, the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, was born on 24 August 1932 in Reading, Berkshire, the fifth son of Dr. George Murphy-O'Connor and his wife, Ellen.

His brother Brian is a priest of the Portsmouth diocese, now retired, and his deceased brother, Patrick, was also a priest of the same diocese. He has another brother, James, who is a doctor. His fourth brother, John, a Regular Officer in the Royal Artillery Regiment, died at the age of 32. His younger sister, Catherine, died in 2006.

Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was educated at Presentation College, Reading, before boarding at Prior Park College, Bath, for his secondary schooling. He began training for the priesthood in 1950 at the Venerable English College, Rome. Whilst at the College, he took a degree in philosophy (PhL) and theology (STL) at the Gregorian University, Rome. He was ordained priest in Rome on 28 October 1956.

In England he was appointed to Corpus Christi Parish, Portsmouth. In 1963 he was transferred to the Sacred Heart parish, Fareham, as assistant and appointed diocesan Director of Vocations. In the summer of 1966 he became private secretary and chaplain to the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt. Rev. Derek Worlock. He played a key part in helping Bishop Worlock establish the first Diocesan Pastoral Centre at Park Place, Wickham. He also played a part in the preparatory stages of the first National Conference of Priests in 1970.

In September 1970, he was appointed parish priest of the Immaculate Conception parish, Portswood, Southampton. His term as parish priest was brief: at the end of 1971 the Holy See appointed him Rector of the Venerable English College, Rome, giving him the responsibility for the training of students for the priesthood. While Rector he acted as host to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Coggan, on the occasion of his historic visit to Pope Paul VI in 1977.

On 21 December 1977 Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was ordained Bishop of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton. He served as Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Europe (1978 to 1983), and as Vice-President of the Laity Commission (1978 to 1983). From 1983 to 2000 he was Chairman of the Committee for Christian Unity, and, from 1994 to 2000, Chairman of the Department for Mission and Unity. From 1982 to 2000 he was Co-Chairman of the Anglican and Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), whose latest document, The Gift of Authority, was published in 1999. In 2000 he was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, in recognition of all his work for Christian unity. The Cardinal is an honorary bencher of the Inner Temple and in August 2001 was created a Freeman of the City of London.

He was installed as tenth Archbishop of Westminster on 22 March 2000. In November 2000 he was elected President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. In February 2001 he was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, and assigned the titular church of the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The Basilica houses the relics of St Catherine of Siena, doctor of the Church and one of the Patron Saints of Europe, the tomb of the Dominican Friar Blessed Fra Angelico, the Patron Saint of Artists, the renowned 'Figure of the Risen Christ' by Michelangelo and frescoes by Fra Filippo Lippi.

Within months of his entry to the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was appointed by Pope John Paul II as member of four different Vatican offices: 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 Presidential Committee of the Pontifical Council for the Family. In 2002, he was appointed as member of the Pontifical Council for Culture in April, as member of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church in June and as member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in October.

He has been particularly interested in youth work, sacramental programmes and the development of small communities. His previous diocese of Arundel and Brighton was the first English diocese to initiate the 'Renew' programme.

In September 2000, he invited Lord Nolan to chair an independent review on child protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. The Nolan Review published their First Report in April 2001 and their Final Report, A Programme for Action, in September 2001 out of which a new independent office has been established called 'COPCA' to oversee the protection of children and vulnerable adults.

In January 2002, at the invitation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was the first member of the Catholic hierarchy since 1680 to deliver a sermon to an English monarch. This took place at Sandringham, the sovereign's country residence in Norfolk, during the Anglican morning service. Present with the Queen were members of her family and her household.

Also in 2002 Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor launched a process of spiritual and pastoral renewal in the Diocese of Westminster, called At Your Word, Lord. The programme, which came to a formal end at the close of 2005, led to 20,000 people meeting regularly in weekly faith groups across the Diocese.

Following a three-year consultation process with the Catholics of his Diocese, in February 2006 the Cardinal announced a series of pastoral priorities for his Diocese in his ‘White Paper’, Communion and Mission. Among the proposals was an adult faith-education programme.

In April 2005 he was one of 125 cardinals who elected Pope Benedict XVI following the death of Pope John Paul II.

Among his personal hobbies and interests are music and sport. He is the author of The Family of the Church (1984) and At the Heart of the World (2004), and editor of Faith in Europe (2005) and Faith and Life in Britain (2008). 

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posted on 11 January 2005

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