Last night in Westminster Cathedral, Murphy-O'Connor gave a major lecture "reflecting on his ministry as archbishop of Westminster"; the 76 year-old cardinal was named to succeed the legendary Basil Hume in early 2000.
The prospect of offering Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor a life peerage is understood to have been discussed during [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown’s meeting with the Pope at the Holy See last week.
Mr Brown said: “He has shown not just a great modesty, but a great sensitivity to representing the feelings and sentiments of people throughout the Church.
“He is widely respected across the world for his interest in international development. He has shown great leadership on those issues, such as world poverty, where people look to the Church for leadership.
“I think he has shown great integrity right throughout the period in which he has been Cardinal and that has earned the respect of people far beyond the Catholic Church and right across the country.”
The Church of England, as the Established Church, has 26 lords spiritual. The ennoblement of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor would, however, require a special dispensation from the Pope because the Catholic Church bans its clergy from any office that might involve the exercise of political power.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, 76, will be the first Archbishop of Westminster since the Reformation to retire; previous archbishops have died in office. He will remain an active member of the College of Cardinals and retain an interest in the affairs of the Holy See.
The move would strengthen the Catholic Church’s increasingly significant role in political debate on issues such as euthanasia, gay adoption, church schools and abortion.
The Cardinal is due to retire in the next few weeks after his successor is announced. The Congregation for Bishops in Rome is examining the candidates and a decision is expected in mid-March.
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Before his death in June 1999, Queen Elizabeth II inducted Hume into the Order of Merit, one of the four UK honors in the sovereign's personal gift.
SVILUPPO: At America's group-blog, Austen Ivereigh -- a former press secretary to the cardinal -- reports that Murphy-O'Connor's farewell Mass has already been scheduled for 25 March, and the installation of the new archbishop for 23 April.
A formal announcement of the Westminster successor is expected by mid-March.