London, United Kingdom | AFP | Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the former leader of England’s Roman Catholics, died on Friday after a battle with cancer, the church said.
The former archbishop of Westminster, who was 85, was admitted to hospital last month.
“Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor died peacefully this afternoon, surrounded by his family and friends. Please pray for the repose of his soul,” said his successor, Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
A warm and personable figure, the former archbishop brought the minority Catholic community more into the mainstream through ecumenical efforts.
In a message to Nichols published minutes before his death, Murphy-O’Connor said: “I am at peace and have no fear of what is to come.”
The message, to be relayed to the faithful, said: “As I now commend myself to the loving mercy of God, I ask them all to pray for me as I remember and pray for them.”
Born to Irish parents in 1932 in Reading, southeast England, Murphy-O’Connor was ordained as a priest in 1956.
He became a bishop in 1977, in which capacity he welcomed pope John Paul II in 1982 on the first visit to Britain by a reigning pontiff.
He was appointed as the 10th archbishop of Westminster in 2000 and served until he stepped down in 2009.
He was named a cardinal by pope John Paul II in 2001.
– Converted Tony Blair –
His greatest test was the firestorm over child sex abuse in the church.
In 1985, he allowed priest Michael Hill to continue working and appointed him chaplain to Gatwick Airport despite being warned that he was a threat to children.
Hill was jailed in 2002 after admitting indecently assaulting boys. The cardinal apologised several times to Hill’s victims, saying he had made a “grave mistake”.
He became the first member of the Catholic hierarchy to preach to an English monarch in more than 500 years when he gave a sermon at Queen Elizabeth II’s Sandringham estate in 2002.
Murphy-O’Connor took part in the 2005 conclave that elected pope Benedict XVI.
He was an outspoken figure, particularly on contraception and abortion and often found himself at odds with British prime minister Tony Blair.
In 2007, shortly after Blair stood down as premier, he oversaw the politician’s conversion to Catholicism from the Church of England, performing the ceremony himself.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, said people saw in Murphy-O’Connor “something of Christ”.
“His humility, sense and holiness made him a church leader of immense impact,” the Church of England leader said.