By Stephen Platten
It is with enormous sadness that we have all received the news of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor’s passing on September 1.
As the lead Roman Catholic ecumenical bishop and co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, Cormac contributed significantly to the increasing understanding and closeness between the two Communions. His chairing of the commission alongside Bishop Mark Santer formed a splendid partnership, a dream ticket, as they say in political caucuses.
Mark’s theological focus combined with Cormac’s broad experience of worldwide Roman Catholicism and his immense geniality led to remarkably productive years, with ARCIC II being responsible for five key agreed statements: Salvation and the Church, The Church as Communion, Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church, The Gift of Authority, and Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ. Although the last document was released under a later chairman, the preliminary work had been under Cormac’s co-chairmanship.
Cormac brought all these resources to bear when he was nominated by Pope John Paul II to succeed Cardinal Basil Hume as Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and thus presiding bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. Basil Hume, his predecessor, had established the role of Archbishop of Westminster in a remarkable way to set the Roman Catholic Church more prominently within the public life of England and Wales.
Cardinal Cormac built on this and used his own gifts to the full in consolidating this work. As a key public figure, he spoke on crucial issues and became again part of the fabric of civic and national life. Often people might remark before an event, “What will this evening be like? Will it be all right? Are there any tensions around?”
“Oh, it’ll be fine,” would come the reply, “Cormac’s going to be there.” His humor, his real empathy with people, his warmth, and his authentic care and concern were always manifest.
Looking back over his life from the view of those based in Rome, the loss will be equally felt. Cormac was a graduate of the Venerable English College and of the Gregorian University, and then later rector of the college himself. When he greeted you at the college, even later in his ministry when he was a bishop, you almost felt that he was still taking you round his home.
His love for the college and his knowledge of Rome in every possible sense was unique. From an Anglican point of view, as a co-patron of the Anglican Centre in Rome, he was not simply supportive in theory, but active and present in the centre’s activities on countless occasions.
So, last year when the centre celebrated its Golden Jubilee, he was at both the service in Westminster Abbey and afterwards at the celebratory dinner at Lambeth Palace. Anglicans worldwide will mourn his passing. There was something eminently lovable about Cormac, and I will be just one among thousands who will feel that they have lost a really good friend and someone entirely immersed in the love of Christ.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen Platten is chaplain to St. Martin-within-Ludgate, London.