The scandal-hit Catholic Church needs to undergo renewal and reform, the former leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales said today as he called for the “pope’s own house to be put in order” in the wake of recent troubles.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, retired Archbishop of Westminster, said the successor to Benedict XVI would need to be able to tackle reform of the Roman Curia, the Vatican departments which govern the 1.2 billion-strong global church.
“There is no doubt that today there needs to be renewal in the Church, reform in the Church and especially of government, how is this next pope going to govern the Church?” he told a news conference.
“Quite a lot of bishops and cardinals think that it has got to be done perhaps in a more collegial way, in other words, those who rule the Church. It is not just the pope who rules the Church, it is the pope with the bishops.
“The pope is essential as a centre of unity and truth but he also cannot rule the Church without real association with the bishops.
“As you know, there have been troubles in recent years, and scandals. Well, this has got to be addressed and especially the pope’s own house has to be put in order.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was speaking after the Catholic Church in Britain was plunged into crisis yesterday following the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, amid allegations of “inappropriate” behaviour towards fellow priests. Cardinal O’Brien has denied the allegations and is taking legal advice.
Asked what his initial reaction had been to Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: “Obviously, I was very sad. I do not know anything about the details, I am sure that they will be addressed but certainly I was saddened. I know Cardinal O’Brien well, so I think it has been very sad.
“I think that what has happened will for him and for the Church in Scotland have been very damaging.
“But I think Cardinal O’Brien who is a very honest man... whoever goes in will look at the allegations that have been made and he himself has contested them. So I think we have to leave it like that.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said part of the role of the apostolic administrator appointed to the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh while the post remains vacant would be to examine the allegations made against Cardinal O’Brien.
Cardinal O’Brien said he will not travel to Rome to take part in the conclave to elect a new pope in order to avoid becoming a focus of media attention.
His decision has left Britain’s Roman Catholics with no vote in the conclave as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, at 80 years old, is ineligible to cast a vote.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who flies to Rome tomorrow to take part in pre-meetings before the conclave starts, said he regretted the fact that Britain has no vote.
He added that he was also “sorry” that Archbishop Vincent Nichols, his successor as Archbishop of Westminster, had not yet been made a cardinal.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s call for reform of the governance of the Roman Catholic Church comes after Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a papal contender, last week denounced the “divisions, dissent, careerism, jealousies” that afflict the Vatican bureaucracy - divisions that were exposed by the leaks of documents taken from the pope’s study.
Pope Benedict has also referred obliquely to the Vatican’s dysfunction, deploring how the church is often “defiled” by attacks and divisions and urging its members to overcome “pride and egoism”.
In his final comments to the Curia at the weekend, he lamented the “evil, suffering and corruption” that has defaced God’s creation.
But he also thanked the Vatican bureaucrats for eight years of work, love and faith and promised them he would be spiritually close to them in retirement.
Speaking at the news conference at the headquarters of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales in London, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor described the qualities of popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II.
He paid tribute to the “lucidity” of the teaching of Pope Benedict, saying: “I have never known a pope who has been able to teach and preach with such clarity and precision and love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“He is a teacher and I think we remember him, particularly in this country, for the way he came over to the people here not as an austere, severe man, but as a humble pastor and shepherd. It was very moving.”
Pope Benedict, 85, announced earlier this month that he is to resign, the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to do so. He will formally quit on Thursday as leader of the global Catholic Church.
The German-born pope, who was elected in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II, said he had decided to resign because of his age and infirmity.