Portrait picture of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. Photo: © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

The Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster turns 80 on 24 August . This is an important milestone in any life, and it is a pleasure to be able to congratulate Cardinal Cormac on his birthday. But it is also a particularly significant moment in the life and career of a Cardinal.

On that day, as with all Cardinals, Cardinal Cormac will step down from all his formal Pontifical appointments and offices within the Roman Curia. While remaining a Cardinal, he will no longer be able to vote in a future Papal Conclave (as he did in 2005 when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI). Although he will remain extremely busy – it is difficult to imagine such an energetic man being anything less, and later this year he travels to Bangladesh on Papal business – turning 80, in Vatican terms, means official retirement.

As Bishop of Arundel and Brighton (1977-2000), and then Archbishop of Westminster (2000-09), Cardinal Cormac has been a leading presence in the Catholic Church in England and Wales for over 30 years. He has also been an unswerving supporter of the British Embassy to the Holy See, most recently by attending our Colloquium this year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the upgrading of our bilateral diplomatic relationship to full Ambassadorial level. He has been an adviser, guide and partner, official and unofficial, to the monarch, Prime Ministers, ambassadors, other religious leaders (of all faiths), NGOs and many other people and organisations in different walks of life. He has shown, alongside his predecessor and successor as Archbishop of Westminster, just how rich and contributory can be the role of the Catholic Church to British society.

The then Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, in whose diocese lies London Gatwick airport, was the first person to greet Pope John Paul II on his 1982 visit to Britain, the first ever Papal visit to the United Kingdom. He tells the story that, ever since, Pope John Paul II – who created him Cardinal in 2001 – referred to him as the Bishop of Gatwick!

Cardinal Cormac has always been a voice of English reason, common sense and a breath of fresh air here in Rome, not least during his time as Rector of the Venerable English College (1971-77). It is important for the Holy See that such voices are heard at the centre, and I am delighted that Archbishop Arthur Roche – until recently Bishop of Leeds – will soon be taking up his position as Secretary of the Pontifical Congregation for Divine Worship, the first Englishman to hold such a senior position at the Roman Curia for many years. Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, will continue to fly the British flag amongst the “active” Cardinals in the College. We look forward to other British voices joining him before too long.

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