Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the emeritus archbishop of Westminster, will not vote in the conclave because he is now 80. He will, however, participate in the pre-conclave meetings of cardinals that discuss the situation in the Church today, the challenges it faces in the world, and the qualities the next Pope should possess. He talks about all this and Pope Benedict’s resignation in this interview.
What do you think of Benedict XVI’s decision to resign as Pope?
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor: I was surprised, I think, like most people were, but, at the same time, on reflection, I think it was a humble, brave and good decision. When one considers this, I think one has to listen carefully to what Pope Benedict himself said about why he was resigning. In my view, he had thought about it for some time, and was aware that at some point in history a Pope might have to resign. So he was brave enough to say that “given my ill-health and my age, it would be good if I took that step.”
Since Pope Benedict decided to resign for reasons of age and waning mental and physical strength, do you think the age factor will be important in choosing the next Pope?
Murphy O’Connor: I think it will be a factor, but not a hugely important one. In some ways, the fact that Pope Benedict has resigned gives a greater freedom to the cardinals to choose a man as Pope whatever his age, provided he has the strength and ability to do that task. So while it will be a factor, and I think it unlikely that they will choose somebody of the same age as Pope Benedict was, I wouldn’t rule it out. I wouldn’t rule it out for the reasons that I’ve said, that it won’t be impossible in the future for a man who is much older to resign the office if his health doesn’t permit him to continue. It might also give the opportunity to the cardinals to vote for somebody who is younger with the same proviso.
What do you see as Pope Benedict’s main legacy to the Church?
Murphy O’Connor: The legacy of Pope Benedict is the lucidity and richness of his teachings. There has not been, as far as I know, a Pope who has taught so much by his homilies and his encyclicals, in words that are so deeply imbued with the Gospel and so clear and relevant for the Christian faith.
That’s a great legacy. And I think his writings, his books, will be pored over in the years to come. He will be remembered also for the humble man that he is. When he came to Britain, he came over not as an austere or a reserved man, but as a good shepherd who only cared about the good of his people.
That was very moving, and he will be remembered for that.
What are the main unresolved problems or challenges that Benedict XVI is passing on to his successor?
Murphy O’Connor: Well, there are challenges within the Church and challenges regarding the Church in the world. Within the Church, there is always the challenge for every Pope to do what is his main task: to hold the Church together in unity and truth, and to do what the Lord said to Peter, “Confirm your brethren.” The Pope has to confirm his fellow bishops; that is his task. And I hope that as Pope Benedict did, so also the next Pope will have to do that too and even more evidently and in new ways.
As for the Church in the world, I hope for a Pope who will be able to understand our strange world of today with all its advances in science and technology, which is still a world that is somehow searching for hope and for meaning. I hope the Pope will be able, through what he says and what he does, to give expression to the Gospel of the love and mercy of God to this world, and to articulate the joy and hope of the Gospel to the many poor people in the world, and to the many in the Western world who are searching for meaning and hope.
You have been reported as saying that after Benedict XVI “there is going to be another conservative Pope — perhaps the last before a great explosion in the Church.” Did you say that?
Murphy O’Connor: No! I’ve certainly been misquoted here. I have never said “another conservative Pope.” I don’t like the word “conservative” or the word “liberal” in this context. When I became archbishop of Westminster I was asked, “Are you a conservative or a liberal?” I replied, “No, I’m a Catholic, and I am sensitive, I hope, to the mind and teaching of the Church in what I proclaim and what I stand for.”
So, I didn’t say “there is going to be another conservative Pope” and I certainly didn’t say “perhaps the last before a great explosion in the Church.” It was somebody else, a person who is not a Catholic, who said that.
It’s been reported that you told The Daily Telegraph that “the next Pope should focus on what’s good, not on condemning contraception.” Did you say that? What did you mean?
Murphy O’Connor: I’ll tell you what I said and what I meant. First of all, I said that the Church’s teaching on sexual morality is concentrated and focused on marriage and the family and that’s the place for the proper use of the sexual gift. Then, in answer to a question, I also said that the Church’s teaching on contraception is clear and should be understood but I added that when speaking about sexual morality it is often better to concentrate on what is positive and good, and that means marriage and the family. This does not mean that one is trying to change the Church’s teaching regarding what is wrong but rather focuses on what is good, true and right for humanity.
What characteristics do you think the cardinals will be looking for in the next Pope?
Murphy O’Connor: I think one of the characteristics is a man who is strong enough to govern the Church. It’s not everybody who can do this. Pope Celestine resigned in 1294 because he just wasn’t able to govern the Church. So there is an element of strength, of character, as well as the obvious elements of intelligence, spirituality and the capacity to speak clearly and to encourage dialogue with other Christians and with the other religions. Those are the things that I would be looking for when considering who among the cardinals might be the appropriate man.
Do you think nationality will be a factor in choosing the next Pope?
Murphy O’Connor: I think it’s clear that any cardinal can be elected Pope, whether he is from Africa, Asia or America. So, in that sense, I don’t think nationality should be an issue. It’s quite clear that what we want is a man with the qualities to be able to do this particular daunting task.
Some of the internal problems that Pope Benedict is passing on to his successor touch the central government of the Church…
Murphy O’Connor: Well, they say, “Ecclesia semper reformanda,” the Church must always be reformed, and I think that applies particularly today both to the Roman Curia and to the Church at large. I am sure that everyone attending the conclave will be well aware of that.
After reading about the “Vatileaks” and the problems in the Roman Curia, many people concluded that it was all a very Italian mess. Some now say it is better not to elect an Italian Pope, while others say only an Italian Pope can sort out this mess. What do you think?
Murphy O’Connor: I think the cardinals must elect a Pope who is able to govern the Church. I don’t mind whether he is an Italian, or a European, or comes from a country on another continent, but he has got to be able, and he (must) have the qualities to govern the Church, which include to support the bishops, and to support and be in a proper fraternity with the people who are most closely associated with him in the Roman Curia.
(Published also in Vatican Insider)