Who will be the next Archbishop of Westminster?

Who will be the next Archbishop of Westminster?


Morus considers the runners and riders in the betting market

Early in 2007, shortly before his 75th birthday as required, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster, tendered his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI. The response, whilst not unexpected, was not as warm as he might have hoped – he was asked to stay on until the Pope chooses otherwise.

It is expected that His Holiness will indicate his preference for a change at Westminster Cathedral within the next 12 months. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor has had a difficult year, especially in trying to oppose government legislation that does not accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church. He has found himself up against powerful enemies – not least Stonewall, the gay rights group who have proven themselves to be amongst the most effective lobbying groups of the last decade of British politics. He has endured scandals over the dismissal of staff members who were apparently gay, or had procured abortions.

He has seen the government pass legislation that has forced Catholic Adoption agencies to close over equal access for homosexual couples, and is now fighting a battle over the new Human Embryology Bill, which covers off stem-cell research, cloning, hybrid embryos, and potentially a change in the 1967 Abortion Act. He was previously implicated in the cover-up of scandals around paedophile priests, and has now issued a controversial response to a Papal Apostolic letter around the celebration of the Tridentine Mass (an Extraordinary Form celebrated in Latin).

Paddy Power have opened a book on the likely replacement for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, though without any indication or market on when he might be replaced. The betting on this market, even more so than betting on the next Pope, is risky, as it relies on a close reading of both the mood of the Vatican, but also the changing requirements of the role given the political climate of the UK.

The next Archbishop of Westminster (whom it is expected will also be elevated to the College of Cardinals, if he is not already a member) will have to be a doctrinally-conservative, yet politically-astute, operator. He will have to re-instate a sense of theological discipline in the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and yet have the requisite pragmatism to ensure that the Catholic Church does not lose its political battles quite so seriously over the next decade or so. He will be a loyalist to Pope Benedict XVI , and should be able to act as a strong voice at the head of the Anglo-Welsh Church, whilst being the sort of character who will bring the lapsed faithful back to Sunday Mass. It is an extraordinarily difficult role, and there is much debate about who best meets these demanding criteria.

I have tried to give a summary of the odds currently available (they are highly illiquid!) and an overview of the favourites. I have included my own view about the odds being offered, but please accept them with the caveat that guessing the mind of the Vatican is no easy task, and no-one outside of the Curia Romana can speak with any true authority on such likelihoods.

2-1 Mt Rev Vincent Nichols Archbishop of Birmingham Very ambitious, and known to be. Media-friendly by choice.

5-1 Mt Rev Kevin McDonald Archbishop of Southwark Interfaith-type, too liberal perhaps

11-2 Rt Rev Alan Hopes Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster Was Anglican until 1992 – would be very surprising choice

6-1 Fr Timothy Radcliffe (OP) Former Master of Order of Preachers (Dominicans) Great orator, Oxonian, first Englishman to lead Dominicans

15-2 Rt Rev William Kenney Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham Would be seen as a very hurtful snub to his current boss, the favourite

10-1 His Eminence, George Cardinal Pell Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, Australia(Dominicans) Perfect conservative credentials, politically heavyweight, monarchist, liked in Rome, fiercely anti-gay. Has endured controversy, and knows England through his time at Oxford. Would be a damning indictment of the English Church if the Pope chose him.

11-1 Fr Aidan Nicols (OP) Lecturer at Oxford, member of the Order of Preachers Theologian of great standing, and has worked and written with the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. If it were to be a Dominican though, Fr Timothy Radcliffe would be more likely.

Click here for the outsiders in the contest

Of all the candidates, only Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald and Archbishop Patrick Kelly attended Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s alma mater, the Venerable English College in Rome, which is the establishment place to go amongst British clergy. Archbishop Peter Smith and Fr Aidan Nichols attended the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), which is equally prestigious.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols is the favourite at 2-1, but is considered a little too eager for promotion. My picks would be Fr Timothy Radcliffe (though 6-1 is a little mean), George Cardinal Pell (good value at 10-1), Archbishop Peter Smith or Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald (both 12-1, which is very generous for the latter). These odds are likely to stay fairly static until the retirement is announced.


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