Murphy-O'Connor, Cormac

▪ 2001

      In 2000 Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, formerly the bishop of Arundel and Brighton, succeeded the late Basil Cardinal Hume as leader of Great Britain's four million Roman Catholics. In the months following his installation as archbishop of Westminster in March, Murphy-O'Connor showed that he would not shy away from tackling controversial issues. In an interview with The Guardian in May, the archbishop stated that priests who had accepted celibacy when they were ordained should keep that vow; he also stated that marriage was not incompatible with the priesthood. “I would not rule it out,” he said of the possibility of ordaining married priests. “The matter will come up again.” In a church in which priests were still expected to remain celibate for life, Murphy-O'Connor's statements prompted criticism from some quarters.

      A few months later the archbishop publicly acknowledged that he had made a mistake in the 1980s in appointing Father Michael Hill chaplain to Gatwick Airport near London despite allegations at the time that the priest was a pedophile. Hill was convicted of nine sex attacks and jailed from 1997 to September 2000. Shortly after Hill's release, Murphy-O'Connor appointed a committee to recommend ways in which child sex abuse by priests could be prevented.

      In yet another controversy the Vatican provoked outrage from other church leaders by issuing a declaration in September proclaiming the Roman Catholic Church the only “instrument for the salvation of all humanity.” The archbishop subsequently attempted to allay the anger of clergies of other faiths by stating that the document did not represent a change in the church's position on ecumenism. “Certainly no slight is intended by its comments regarding other Christian communities,” he said.

      Murphy-O'Connor was born on Aug. 24, 1932, in Reading, Berkshire, Eng. In his family three uncles and two brothers were priests. Murphy-O'Connor was ordained in 1956, and after serving parishes in Portsmouth and Fareham, he became director of vocations for the diocese of Portsmouth. In 1966 he was named private secretary and chaplain to Bishop Derek Worlock, and in 1971 he was appointed rector of the English College in Rome. In that position he hosted Anglican Archbishop Donald Coggan of Canterbury during a historic visit to Pope Paul VI in 1977.

      After Murphy-O'Connor was appointed bishop of Arundel and Brighton at the end of 1977, he gained a reputation as a champion of ecumenism. He became cochairman of the Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission in 1982 and chairman of the British Catholic bishops' Committee for Christian Unity in 1983. Anglican Archbishop George Carey of Canterbury awarded him the first Lambeth doctorate in divinity given to a Roman Catholic bishop since the Reformation. Murphy-O'Connor's book The Family of the Church was published in 1984.

Darrell J. Turner

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Universalium. 2010.

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