Nigel Baker

Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

23rd August 2012

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

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

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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2 comments on “Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

  1. I came to know Fr Cormac a little during the latter years of his ministry, and more so when he was co-president of Churches Together in England (CTE). I used to enjoy meeting him regularly in London alongside the Armenian Archbishop Nathan Hovhannisian.

    Truly a man of faith, let alone a jovial one with a sense of humour, he was an accomplished pianist and often enjoyed a nice bowl of spaghetti!

    It is with an undiluted sense of pleasure that I join Ambassador Baker in wishing our cardinal a happy & young eightieth birthday!

  2. A thoughtful and positive précis of a great Cardinal who has served both Church and State with distinction. It is excellent that The Holy Father continues to show trust and confidence in Cardinal Cormac in appointing him as Papal Legate for a November visit. We have been very fortunate in England to have had first Cardinal Basil and then Cardinal Cormac. They have given the Catholic Church greater credibility in wider society and this must further God’s plan for humankind.

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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