Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said he was “deeply moved” after being named cardinal – an appointment that will be seen as strengthening the influence of British Catholicism at the Vatican.
The Archbishop, the most senior Catholic in England and Wales, was one of 19 new cardinals named by Pope Francis on Sunday morning. The official appointment ceremony will take place at the consistory of cardinals at the Vatican next month.
Some commentators believe that the 68-year-old could use the higher-profile platform to raise issues of social justice in the UK.
Archbishop Nichols said: “I am deeply moved by the honour conferred upon the Catholic Church in England and Wales and on the Diocese of Westminster in my appointment.” He added: “This appointment enables me, on behalf of all, to serve the Pope in a direct and prolonged way. Personally, this is a humbling moment.”
The Pope announced the new cardinals after the Angelus in St Peter’s Square. Archbishop Nichols’ predecessor as Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, was also created cardinal, although he can no longer vote in the Conclave as he is over 80.
Catholic writer Clifford Longley said: “Vincent is well respected and has good ecumenical credentials. He’s the senior Archbishop and it is customary for that role to become a Cardinal.”
He added. “It has been the tradition since 1850 that Archbishops of Westminster should have a Cardinal’s hat. There was a certain inevitability about this appointment. The role automatically gives you more respect, and he will have more weight in decision-making at the Vatican.”
The Cardinals are the most senior priests behind the Pope. They act as advisers and help run the church, with their principal role being to elect a new Pope when the previous one abdicates or dies.
Mr Longley told The Independent: “This strengthens the influence of English and Welsh Catholicism, which is on the side of the sort of things, on the whole, that Pope Francis likes.
“Vincent Nichols’ style is to regard issues of social justice as especially important. He takes a strong view that business has lost its way morally and needs to reground itself on moral principles.”
Archbishop Nichols is the 11th Archbishop of Westminster to be named cardinal. He was born in Crosby, Merseyside in 1945. A life-long fan of Liverpool FC, he wanted to be a lorry driver as a child, but as a teenager standing on the terraces in Anfield, “I’d feel a nagging call about what God wanted,” he said.
He studied for the priesthood at the Venerable English College in Rome from 1963 to 1970 and was ordained as a priest in Rome in 1969.
He was made a bishop in 1992 at the age of just 46, then the youngest in the UK, before being named Archbishop of Birmingham at the turn of the century. He moved to Westminster nine years later, an appointment believed to have been made personally by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, head of the Church of England, said: “I am absolutely delighted by this well-deserved appointment. Archbishop Nichols has demonstrated clear leadership, personal holiness and immense generosity.”