Former Archbishop of Westminster dies aged 85

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, whose parents were from Cork, died following a battle with cancer

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the former head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, has died aged 85.

Cardinal Cormac, whose parents were from Cork, served as the tenth Archbishop of Westminster from 2000 until his retirement in 2009.

He was revealed to be seriously ill in hospital last month, with his health said to have taken a "defining turn" during a battle with cancer.

Cardinal Cormac was ordained as a priest in Rome in 1956 at the age of 24, with Pope John Paul II appointing him a cardinal in 2001, a year after he took the role of Archbishop of Westminster.

His replacement, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, described how Cardinal Cormac died "peacefully" at 3.15pm on Friday.

He was surrounded by family and friends.

No fear of what is to come

In a statement, Cardinal Nichols, the current Archbishop of Westminster, added: "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."

In a message posted on the church's website on Friday afternoon, Cardinal Cormac had asked Cardinal Vincent to relay how he was "at peace" and had "no fear of what is to come."

Describing how he was "privileged" to have served as Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac added: "I have received many blessings in my life, especially from my family and friends.

"I thank God for the many priests, religious and lay faithful who have helped and sustained me in my Episcopal life.

"Nor should I forget the many Anglican and Free Church colleagues whose friendship I have valued very much.

"Above all, as I now commend myself to the loving mercy of God, I ask them all to pray for me as I remember and pray for them."

Abuse investigation

Early into his tenure as Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac set up an investigation into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Following his retirement, he was later appointed by the Vatican to take a leading role in a probe into abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.

In 2015, Cardinal Cormac admitted he was ashamed of how he dealt with sex abuse allegations concerning a Catholic priest within his Sussex diocese in the 1980s, which he did not report to police.

The priest, Michael Hill, went on to abuse more children and was jailed in 1997.

Gay rights

His time as Archbishop of Westminster was also marked by a row with Tony Blair's Labour government over the rights of gay couples to adopt children.

Cardinal Cormac had argued Catholic adoption agencies should be exempt from new laws, but later welcomed Mr Blair into the Catholic Church when the former prime minister converted after leaving office.

In 2001, Cardinal Cormac became the first Catholic Cardinal to take part in an English royal funeral service since 1509 when he read prayers at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican Church, said "people saw something of Christ" in Cardinal Cormac.

"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," he said.

"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."