Bookie rejects bet on outsider as next Archbishop

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A bookmaker has turned down an attempt by a mystery punter to place £40,000 on a rank outsider in the race to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster.

The unlikely bet, proposed last week to the Dublin-based betting company, was the most outlandish in an unexpected flurry of bets being placed on the runners and riders to replace the cardinal, who is expected to retire at the end of the year.

The 13-8 clear favourite in the race is the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Birmingham, who is credited with scoring several propaganda victories over the Government in recent years, particularly on the issue of faith schools.

But in a demonstration of the open nature of what is a crowded field, Paddy Power refused a £40,000 bet on Monsignor James Curry, a parish priest who has recently moved from Our Lady of Grace and St Edward in Chiswick to Our Lady of Victories in Kensington. He was not even in the running when the bet was attempted last week.

But because of the bet – which sources at Paddy Power say was turned down because it was "a whack job on a left-field candidate" – the company is now taking bets on Mgr Curry at 40-1. Other lower-level bets have since been placed on the outsider. "We don't take that kind of money on a novelty bet like this," a Paddy Power source said. "Sometimes we do the punter a favour and turn it down for their sake, and say,'Maybe you want to think about this'."

Other figures being tipped by senior Roman Catholics include Father Timothy Radcliffe, the highly respected Dominican friar of the English Province, and the only member of the English Province of the Dominicans to have held the office since the order's foundation in 1216.

The priest, a member of the Dominican priory at Blackfriars, Oxford, is a highly sought-after speaker and the author of acclaimed books, including What is the Point of Being a Christian, which won the 2007 Michael Ramsay Prize for theological writing.

Fr Radcliffe, seen as on the "progressive" side of the church, was previously the Master of the Order of Preachers, and Prior Provincial of the Dominicans in England. He is on the books with Paddy Power as the 6-1 second favourite.

Sources say that because of fresh uncertainty over whether Archbishop Nichols will succeed the cardinal, Fr Radcliffe is slowly emerging as a new favourite. "He would be the ambitious choice, and he may well end up with it," one well-placed Roman Catholic said.

Also in the running is Aidan Nichols, the first John Paul II Memorial Visiting Lecturer at Oxford University for 2006-08. Fr Nichols is a 20-1 outsider.

Westminster contenders

Most Rev Vincent Nichols 13-8

The traditionalists' preferred candidate, the Archbishop of Birmingham is credited with taking on the "aggressive secularism" of New Labour, particularly over faith schools. Seen as a strong media performer.

Father Timothy Radcliffe 6-1

The only member of the English Province of the Dominicans to have held the office since the Order's foundation in 1216, Fr Radcliffe is a dark horse tipped by insiders as the candidate most likely to make an impact. Seen as a "progressive".

Rt Rev Arthur Roche 12-1

The beanie-wearing Bishop of Leeds is a member of the liberal "magic circle". He is rowing with three traditionalist churches he is closing. That is likely to hinder his chances.

Father Aidan Nichols 20-1

The betting increased on Fr Nichols after he was seen having lunch with Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, the nuncio to Great Britain, who has the ear of the Vatican.

Monsignor James Curry 40-1

The west London parish priest found himself in the running after the mystery £40,000 bet was attempted but refused at Paddy Power. He is now on the books but is said to be "baffled" by the speculation.