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The former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, has died aged 85, a spokesman for the Catholic Church said.
He became the 10th Archbishop of Westminster in 2000 and carried out the role until 2009.
A spokeswoman for the Catholic Church in England and Wales said he died at 3.15pm on Friday.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the current Archbishop of Westminster, said in August Cardinal Murphy O’Connor’s health had “taken a defining turn”.
Announcing his predecessor’s death, Cardinal Vincent said: “I am writing to let you know the sad news that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor died peacefully this afternoon, surrounded by his family and friends.
“Please pray for the repose of his soul. Pray, too, for his family, and those many friends and colleagues from the Diocese and far beyond who mourn his loss.
“Information about the funeral rites for the Cardinal will be circulated as soon as possible.”
Born in Reading on February 24 1932 to parents who originally came from County Cork, in Ireland, he rose to become the leading Roman Catholic prelate in the United Kingdom.
Throughout his life, he was an outspoken figure, particularly on the issues of contraception and abortion and more than once found himself at odds with Tony Blair, the then prime minister, who himself was to turn to the Roman Catholic Church.
He was installed as the tenth Archbishop of Westminster in March 2000 and the following year he was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was educated at Presentation College, Reading, before attending Prior Park College, Bath. He began training for the priesthood in 1950 at the Venerable English College in Rome.
He was ordained bishop of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton in 1977, at which point he became chairman of numerous committees and other Church bodies.
The head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, paid tribute to the cardinal, saying people saw in him “something of Christ”.
Mr Welby said: “The news of the death of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O-Connor today represents a loss to his innumerable friends, to the church and to the country.
The cardinal was a “good friend” to Anglicans across the world, the Archbishop said, adding that his work as co-chairman with the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission was undertaken with “customary good humour”.
He said: “He will be remembered with thanks and affection by all whose lives he touched. He was a great raconteur and story-teller, amusing, but always with a purpose.
“His words and his life drew people to God. His genial warmth, pastoral concern and genuine love for those in his care will be missed, but also celebrated with thanks. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”
“Cormac was a bishop for four decades but was first and foremost a servant of God and disciple of Jesus Christ. His humility, sense and holiness made him a church leader of immense impact.
“When he was called from the Diocese Arundel and Brighton to be Archbishop of Westminster, Pope St John Paul II made reference to the fact that he had already been a bishop for a number of years and that it was natural that he should turn to him to succeed Cardinal Hume as Archbishop. It was natural because in Cormac people saw something of Christ.”
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