BECKENHAM is not in the dioceses of Westminster, Arundel and Brighton or Portsmouth, the three jurisdictions which linked the priestly ministry of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, who died at the beginning of this month; but there are various reasons why we should particularly pray for his soul and give thanks for his service to the Church.
The first reason is his national role. Although it is not technically correct to refer to any Archbishop of Westminster as the ‘leader of the Catholic Church’ in England and Wales, the See of Westminster has since the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850 always enjoyed a primacy of honour and a de facto leadership role. In this position I think there are two achievements for which the late cardinal was responsible which are important and long-lasting. The first was that possibly as a result of mistakes he knew he had made as a bishop in the area of disciplining clergy guilty of child abuse, he set up our present Child Protection policies to ensure that such mistakes could not happen again – policies which are thought to be a very good example to the rest of the Catholic Church. He had to brave a lot of criticism to do this.
Secondly he was responsible for the clear condemnation by the Bishops Conference of plans to renew the Trident nuclear missile programme (a move his predecessor Cardinal Hume had resisted) which clarified the Church’s critique of the nuclear deterrence policies of this country (the Scots bishops had for many years condemned Trident).
With regard to the Westminster diocese he also took the step of introducing the permanent diaconate (a move his predecessor Cardinal Hume had resisted) and joining the existing southern dioceses’ formation programme. Students and formation team members on our programme from the Westminster diocese have made a tremendous contribution over the years, thanks to him.
We have other links here. He has a nephew who lives in the parish, and early on in the century he came here to celebrate St Edmund’s day with us, for which a special lectern fall was made which displays St Edmund’s coat of arms with a cardinal’s hat (although he wasn’t one). The link was also because he was an old friend of Father Jack Madden, formed on many a course (Fr Jack had also known well the cardinal’s brother, the legendary Southampton priest Mgr Pat Murphy O’Connor). I remember being introduced to Bishop Murphy O’Connor (before he went to Westminster) by Archbishop Michael Bowen, who explained to him that I was Jack Madden’s curate. Bishop Cormac asked me (as one would) whether I played golf and I mumbled my apologies; Archbishop Michael then said ‘I don’t think it would be a good idea for Jack’s curates to play golf.’ (Fr Jack loved this story and told it often; I can claim to be possibly the only priest in the country who has been more or less told by his bishop not to play the game).
Many have paid tribute to Cardinal Cormac’s warmth and deep faith, and this was shared with people in many ways. He was gentle, kind and witty. I didn’t see him very often, nor can I claim to have known him well, but particularly in later years he always remembered me and asked after Jack’s health. His final decline was rapid because only in May he came to a large glittering banquet at St Mary’s University to mark the 60th anniversary of his ordination, and was on good form.
May he rest in peace.