UK

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor dies at 85

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Media captionMartin Bashir looks back at the life of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

The former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, has died at the age of 85, the Roman Catholic Church says.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, who died on Friday at 15:35 BST, had cancer.

He had been seriously ill in hospital since his health took a "defining turn" in August.

Pope Francis paid tribute to the cardinal's "unwavering devotion" and "distinguished service to the Church in England and Wales".

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor became the 10th Archbishop of Westminster in March 2000 and therefore the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.

He retired from the role in 2009 and was the first archbishop to do so.

Born on 24 August 1932 in Reading, Berkshire, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was one of six children. Two of his brothers became priests while another played rugby for Ireland.

He was ordained a priest in Rome in October 1956 and was made Cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.

The current Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, had led calls for prayers for the cardinal after he became ill last month.

In his last message, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor wrote to Cardinal Nichols, saying: "I am at peace and have no fear of what is to come.

"I have received many blessings in my life, especially from my family and friends."

'Genuine love'

Speaking to the BBC, Cardinal Nichols said his lasting memory of him would be his "laughter and of his joy in life, music and sport and in company and in having a good chat".

"I'm sure heaven will be ringing with his laughter."

On the BBC's Desert Island Discs programme Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor admitted that while training for the priesthood at the English College he learned how to make a good Martini cocktail.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, said in a statement that Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's "humility, sense and holiness made him a church leader of immense impact".

"He was a great raconteur and story-teller, amusing, but always with a purpose. His words and his life drew people to God.

"His genial warmth, pastoral concern and genuine love for those in his care will be missed, but also celebrated with thanks. May he rest in peace and rise in glory."

Challenges

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's time with the church did not pass without its controversy.

While he was the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, it became known to him a priest in the diocese was abusing children.

After seeking advice, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor moved Michael Hill to be a chaplain at Gatwick Airport, but Hill abused more children there and was sent to prison in 1997.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor later said the way he handled things was "shameful" and went on to set up a independent committee to review child protection practices in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who converted to Catholicism in 2007 when he left office, paid his own tribute to the churchman credited with playing a role in his conversion.

He said the cardinal was a "wonderful advertisement" for Christianity and the Catholic Church.

"He led a life of commitment, dedication and compassion. But he also led a life of joy.

"He was a lovely person to be with and be around with a great sense of humour and the sharpest of wits. I found him always a source of wisdom and genuine friendship."

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