Monday, 3 September 2012

Interview with Cardinal Cormac - Part 2

Cardinal Cormac

In this second part of an exclusive interview with Cardinal Cormac, Peter Burholt, is in conversation with him about his life in retirement. He achieved a significant milestone on 24 August when he celebrated his 80th birthday.

The interview starts where Part1 concluded, leaving the momentous question unanswered about his intention to retire from office.

Next came a life-changing moment for you. On 3 April 2009 you put in your request to retire as the Archbishop of Westminster. This was the first time in Church history since the Reformation that a person had retired ‘in post’. There were many stories swirling around the Press, but why was this decision made?

Every Bishop is required to submit his resignation to the Holy Father at the age of 75.  This rule came in at the Second Vatican Council and normally the Pope accepts the resignation.

Pope Benedict did not accept your request to retire. Instead, he asked you to stay in office ‘until he chooses otherwise’. Did your request affect your relationship with him and was he irritated with you?

Goodness me no! I did, in fact, stay a further 18 months in post until a successor was found.

At a lecture after Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ installation you urged Christians to treat atheists and agnostics with deep esteem. However, later you are quoted as saying that a lack of Faith is the ‘greatest of all evils’. You blamed atheism for war and destruction, and implied it was a greater evil than sin itself.

Is this a contradiction, or were you misquoted?

At this point Cardinal Cormac got up and went to his adjacent study. Perhaps this was an abrupt end to our interview? However, after a few minutes he returned with two books.

Yes, I was misquoted – it was out of context. To get the full meaning of what I said, I would encourage the readers of the A&B News to study the books I have assembled ‘Faith in Britain’ and ‘Faith in Europe’.

It was time to move onto another milestone in Cardinal Cormac’s life.

The Daily Telegraph ran a headline on 6 December 2009 ‘Cardinal Cormac turns down peerage following Catholic row’. Did this indicate turmoil behind the scenes?

It was Gordon Brown who had made the offer of a peerage – I liked some of his policies, such as his attitude to aid for third world countries. It was his vision to have representatives of the main Faiths in the Upper House.

Naturally the Bishops of England and Wales and the Secretary of State were consulted on this important matter.  Eventually, for good reasons, it was decided not to accept the offer and I wrote accordingly to the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Were you disappointed at this decision?

Not really.  After consideration of the matter it seemed to me that I would be involved in matters that were beyond my brief and might have caused me some hassle and difficulty.

Talking of looking back and of Prime Minsters, in 2006 you took Tony Blair to task on the question of AIDS and, again, in 2007 you expressed contrary views on gay adoption. You have also been quite clear on your views concerning the invasion of Iraq and the state of society in general – all of which went against the official government ‘line’.

As has been well documented, Tony Blair became a Catholic. Did you support his conversation to our Faith?

I used to see him at such places as Chequers and, generally, he believed in the Catholic teachings. While at that time he did go against what I was saying, he has since retracted many of his statements.

I received him into the Church and he expressed his belief in everything that the Catholic Church teaches.  Occasionally he has had to make corrections, but I believe he is a very sincere and practising Catholic.

I know he has had a hard time with some of the decisions he has made, but I think he is decent sort of person – he used to go unnoticed to Mass for many years, often on his own and without Cherie. When we meet he wants to talk mostly about theology.

You now have a title of ‘Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster’. What does that entail?

It is an honorary title given to a Bishop who has retired from office but who is still entitled to respect as a Bishop.  It makes it clear that he is now retired from office.

Pope Benedict’s visit in September 2010 hit the headlines. Were you involved?

Others had the responsibility of organising the visit, although I was with him all the time in what was called his personal suite. I greatly enjoyed this historic occasion and the Queen gave him a very warm welcome in Scotland at the start of his visit.

We all have personal memories of the Pope’s visit. What were your ‘golden moments’?

Golden moments – yes, there were many. There was the beatification of Cardinal Newman at Cofton Park in Birmingham on 19 September. You may remember I mentioned Pope John Paul’s remarks earlier in our conversation on the inability of the English to produce miracles, but we got there in the end!

Then there was the visit to St Mary’s University College in Twickenham with the youth and what I have labelled as the ‘three Westminsters’ – the Hall, the Abbey and the Cathedral. All these occasions were unforgettable. The Pope’s speech to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall was absolutely brilliant.

But, I must confess to being glad to have a rest after his departure. It was very tiring!

Do you still play the piano?

No, not a lot, although the editor of The Guardian did invite me to play at the new Kings Hall London 18 months ago to celebrate Schubert’s 200th anniversary. I must confess his compositions are not the easiest to play.

Last year on 16 June, instead of listening to the radio, you went on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show. What was the experience like and did you try to convert him to Catholicism?

I found him very easy indeed and we talked about everything. No, I didn’t try to convert him – maybe the next time.

In the broadcast, your ‘Thought for the Day’ extolled listeners to ‘live life to the full and trust in God, that he will guide and sustain us’. Is this how you lead your life and have you always trusted in God, without question?

Yes, I do try to follow this example. I have never lost my Faith, even in what I might regard as the dark days. I have to say that I have had great happiness in living within the life of Christ.

You may find what I am about to say rather strange on this topic. However, when I attend the funerals of fellow priests, I am struck by the way in which people suddenly find out what good they have done in the support of others and the great out pouring of love that happens on these occasions. It is the love of Christ which keeps us going.

You had a front row seat at St Paul’s Cathedral for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee thanksgiving service. The TV broadcast made you appear a very prominent guest.

It was good to be seated next to my fellow cardinal, Keith O’Brien, and I was just very glad and honoured to be present.

Looking around this room there is no evidence of carpet slippers on the hearth or a pipe rack to be seen anywhere. How do you spend your time in retirement?

The prospect of a slipper-wearing and pipe-smoking Cardinal Cormac brought a smile to his face.

Well, I now have proper time to prepare talks and homilies – in fact, on this latter subject I find that I am much more careful than I used to be, and I am glad to be able to preach every Sunday in the local parish here in Chiswick.

I do have some semi-official tasks, such as organising the memorial service for Norman St John Stevas. I also like to go on retreats and I still play golf – badly! Responsibilities in Rome are gradually fading away.

By anyone’s standards you have had, and continue to have a full and eventful life - no doubt with its fair share of ups and downs. Do you ever look back over your 56 years as a priest and think that, not being married, you have been missing out in sharing these moments?

You must realise that I freely chose the life of celibacy, which is my fulfilment. I do not think I have missed out – if I have, it is my sacrifice.

Then there was a slight pause in the conversation when he considered the rest of his reply. 

My family makes up for a lot. Did you know that I have 20 great grand nephews and grand nieces? However, don’t ask me the names of all of them!

What makes you sad?

The break-up of marriages and the subsequent unhappiness of the children make me sad.

What gives you pleasure?

I do enjoy engaging with people and entertaining. Writing my life story? Maybe sometime in the future, when I have time.

If you had been a few years younger, would you like to have put yourself forward as being the next pope?

Would you be surprised to know this humble man answered the question with an emphatic ‘No’!

How would you like to be remembered?

After a reflective pause, he gently replied……

As a good shepherd.

What an appropriate note to end this conversation with Cardinal Cormac. We said our ‘good byes’, but not before a few still moments were spent in his private chapel.

None of us know how history will record our life on this earth, but we can be sure that the Diocese of Arundel & Brighton has been blessed by the presence of this significant priest and man of the people. Thanks be to God!

1 comment:

  1. Re Tony Blair, the Cardinal says: " While at that time he did go against what I was saying, he has since retracted many of his statements."

    And which statements has he retracted? No suggestion that he has changed his support for contraception and abortion. And he has stated his support for gay marriage.

    No matter what their background everyone is welcome to convert and to be received into the Church. The scandal of Tony Blair's reception is that he was received into the Church without converting.