Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has revealed that Pope Francis asked him to pass on his “warmest greetings” to the Queen just two days after his election to the papacy.
In an exclusive interview in this week’s Catholic Herald, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said the Argentine Pope was keen to “assert his respect for the Queen” immediately after his election on March 13, six months ago tomorrow.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: “All the cardinals had a meeting with him in the Hall of Benedictions, two days after his election. We all went up one by one. He greeted me very warmly. He said something like: ‘It’s your fault. What have you done to me?’
“Just as I was leaving, he said: ‘Don’t forget: give the Queen my warmest greetings’.”
The cardinal said he then called the Queen’s secretary on his return to the English College in Rome, and passed on Pope Francis’s good wishes.
The cardinal continued: “It shows he was aware of that and wanted to assert his respect for the Queen. Of course, he had been in favour of the Malvinas and had prayed for those who had lost their lives. Fair enough. But he’s quite clear that as Pope he’s not taking any sides.
“That was a really nice thing, to be able to pass on his greetings to the Queen.”
The cardinal also disclosed that he had spoken to the future Pope as they left the Missa pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice, the final Mass before the conclave began on March 12.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: “We talked a little bit. I told him he had my prayers and said, in Italian: ‘Be careful.’ I was hinting, and he realised and said: ‘Si – capisco’ – yes, I understand. He was calm. He was aware that he was probably going to be a candidate going in. Did I know he was going to be Pope? No. There were other good candidates. But I knew he would be one of the leading ones.”
The 81-year-old cardinal, who retired as Archbishop of Westminster in 2009, said Pope Francis’s decision to refer to himself as “Bishop of Rome” in his first address had raised hopes for unity with the Orthodox.
He said: “It is said – and I can’t verify it – that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople came to the installation of Pope Francis because of that, because here was one who was not saying immediately ‘I’m Pope. I’m over everybody’, just ‘I’m the Bishop of Rome’.
“The dialogue with the Orthodox has always been difficult because of the position of the Pope. Now here you had a cardinal coming from another part of the world which was never thought of 900 years ago when the break with the Orthodox happened. So I think there could be closer union with the Orthodox Church because of the manner of the man now the Bishop of Rome.”
Read the full interview with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor in this week’s print edition of The Catholic Herald, out on Friday