The Archbishop of Westminster looks almost certain to be offered a peerage after his retirement, which is expected within weeks.
The Prime Minister said during an interview with The Tablet, the Roman Catholic weekly, that the Cardinal’s leadership qualities had gained him public respect and confirmed that discussions of his elevation to the Lords would “be discussed at a later stage”.
The prospect of offering Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor a life peerage is understood to have been discussed during Gordon Brown’s meeting with the Pope at the Holy See last week.
Mr Brown said: “He has shown not just a great modesty, but a great sensitivity to representing the feelings and sentiments of people throughout the Church.
“He is widely respected across the world for his interest in international development. He has shown great leadership on those issues, such as world poverty, where people look to the Church for leadership.
“I think he has shown great integrity right throughout the period in which he has been Cardinal and that has earned the respect of people far beyond the Catholic Church and right across the country.”
The Church of England, as the Established Church, has 26 lords spiritual.
The ennoblement of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor would, however, require a special dispensation from the Pope because the Catholic Church bans its clergy from any office that might involve the exercise of political power.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, 76, will be the first Archbishop of Westminster since the Reformation to retire; previous archbishops have died in office.
He will remain an active member of the College of Cardinals and retain an interest in the affairs of the Holy See.
The move would strengthen the Catholic Church’s increasingly significant role in political debate on issues such as euthanasia, gay adoption, church schools and abortion.
The Cardinal is due to retire in the next few weeks after his successor is announced. The Congregation for Bishops in Rome is examining the candidates and a decision is expected in mid-March.
The favourites to succeed him are Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham and Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff.
Bishop Bernard Longley, an auxiliary in Westminster, is also being considered.
In a public address at Westminster Cathedral last night, his last before he retires, the Cardinal warned against pessimism about the future of the influence of religion in public life.
He said: “The greatest danger for us at the moment is to let ourselves believe what secular culture wants us to believe about ourselves, namely, that we are becoming less and less influential and in decline. I believe that the Church has a vigorous life, and a crucial role to play in our society – more important than at any other time in our recent history.”
He also gave an indication of what his priorities might be were he sitting in the House of Lords, criticising the use of legislation to limit religious freedom and praising the contributions made by Christian charities in providing public services.
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