Murphy-O’Connor had been reading a book while traveling to a conference of priests and came across the idea of Christianity being vanquished in the contemporary world. So, the phrase was in the back of his mind when a reporter questioned him after a lecture. In his answer, he spoke deliberately of Christianity not the Church being vanquished. The distinction is important: Christianity stands for a certain mindset or outlook that informs popular belief.
But Murphy-O’Connor believes it was the word “vanquished” that grabbed the public’s attention. “Something being vanquished suggests that a battle has been lost and people were shocked to realize we had lost it.” He smiled. “The Church is obviously very much alive.”
Born in 1932 of Irish descent, Murphy-O'Connor is tall, soft-spoken, approachable every bit the “genial archbishop” described by the BBC. But after two years of holding his office, he has distinguished himself as an outspoken advocate of life and the family. His November 2001 statement on the immorality of human cloning was widely reported, and his invitation by Queen Elizabeth to preach to the royal family in January is without precedent for a Catholic prelate.
This invitation comes at a time when Catholics have moved more toward the center of English society than they have in a very long time. “Don’t make too much of the statement,” he said. “But we certainly receive more notice than we did in the past.”
He has already attended several dinners with the royal family at Windsor Castle, and enjoys an especially good relationship with both Prince Philip and Prince Charles. The Cardinal Archbishop observed that the royal family, like the Catholic clergy, has the unique opportunity to speak their minds on important issues. “We can’t lose our jobs if people disagree with us,” he laughed.
It's a good thing, since his main challenges were to “build the Catholic community from within” and to be “outspoken in defense of truth and objective morality.”
Murphy-O'Connor is not only kind but astute. His study was lined with books that were obviously not for decoration; he is a voracious reader, and is alert to the broader cultural themes and ideas important in the Church. “We need a new generation of Catholic thinkers who can speak and write like Chesterton, Belloc, and Ronnie Knox. The trouble is that so few people who have the knowledge can speak to people where they really itch.”
He described his predecessor, the beloved Cardinal Hume, as a very gifted and “saintly” man, and of himself: “The only authority that I have is derived from the office I hold.” I was touched by his genuine humility. This is precisely the kind of man needed to lead the Church in the land of Henry VIII.