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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 11:19 GMT
Murphy-O'Connor: 'Everyone's favourite'

westminster cathedral New management at Westminster Cathedral: But little is likely to change


By News Online's Alex Kirby

Almost eight months after the death of Cardinal Basil Hume, the Vatican has announced the name of the man who will succeed him as archbishop of Westminster.

He is Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, bishop since 1977 of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton in southern England.

The appointment marks the end of months of speculation, and of frustration that the decision had taken so long. Many Catholics will be relieved that Rome has now finally made up its mind.

Bishop Murphy-O'Connor was described recently in the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, as "everyone's favourite bishop: human, genial, collaborative, imposing".

He is known as a team player and is anxious to involve lay Catholics more closely in the church's life. In 2002 his diocese will hold its first joint synod for clergy and laity.

basil hume Basil Hume: A hard act to follow
One of Murphy-O'Connor's achievements has been to keep relations between Catholics and Anglicans in reasonably good shape, despite the strains imposed by a Church of England increasingly inclined to follow its own instincts.

He has co-chaired the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, the main body for talks between the two churches.

And he was more welcoming than some of the other Catholic bishops to Anglican clergy who left the Church of England over its decision to ordain women priests.

Murphy-O'Connor is believed to have been the private choice of George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to succeed Hume.

Traditionalist

But for all his avuncular personality and his reaching out to other Christian traditions, the new man at Westminster will not contemplate any radical rethinking of the faith.

He is a rigorous upholder of traditional teaching on moral issues and strongly opposes abortion and euthanasia.

He will be 68 later this year, leaving him only seven more years before he has to offer to retire. So he is a caretaker, as well as a safe pair of hands who will keep the Catholic Church moving steadily forward along the path determined by Rome.

The Congregation of Bishops, the part of the Vatican that recommends a name for the Pope to approve, seems to have decided that English and Welsh Catholics need stability rather than excitement.

st peter's The Vatican remains the centre of control
One Catholic journalist told BBC News Online: "Cormac won't rock the boat. Being malleable and toeing Rome's line is just about part of the job definition for Catholic bishops these days.

"He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, either - he's certainly no theologian. But he's far from being the most illiberal choice they could have made."

Dwindling numbers

The new archbishop will be confronted by the need to arrest the numbers of Catholics who no longer go to church, as well as the expectations that he will prove a man of the stature of Hume - a daunting prospect for any successor.

He is expected to be installed within the next couple of months and will probably be made a cardinal later this year.

The man who was widely expected to win Westminster, Bishop Vincent Nichols, has been appointed as the new archbishop of Birmingham. He was the bishop Basil Hume had wanted to succeed him.

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See also:
25 Jun 99 |  UK
'Humble' Hume's final farewell
07 Jan 00 |  UK
New archbishop faces emptying pews
18 Jun 99 |  UK
The search for Hume's successor

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