Cardinal confesses his love for light opera and a mean Martini

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The Independent Online

For the man who leads Catholics in England and Wales and will help choose the next Pope, it is a skill few would expect to find alongside unshakeable faith and doctrinal rigour – cocktail making.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor revealed yesterday the hidden talents he brings to his stewardship of the church – a fondness for light opera and the ability to mix a mean Martini.

The 68-year-old cardinal, who as Archbishop of Westminster is the spiritual leader of 4.2 million English and Welsh Catholics, used BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs to discuss some lighter articles of his faith.

While touching on weighty issues such as the ordination of married men or even his chances of becoming Pope, it was the twin mysteries of music and the drinks cabinet that came forth for exploration. Asked about his training as a priest in Rome during the 1950s, he said that he would sing a song from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Mikado during evenings in his cloisters. During gatherings with fellow seminarians he also gained a reputation as the master of a cocktail consisting of sweet Martini, Punt e Mes and, "if you were dashing", a shot of gin. He added, however: "I wouldn't want to give the impression that these were terribly raucous parties. It was a strict regime."

Choosing music ranging from the Beatles to Elgar'sDream of Gerontius, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said he hoped to live by the motto of a pilgrim namesake: "He who went beyond what was deemed possible."

With membership of the priesthood in England and Wales shrinking by 1,500 since 1980 and about 50 per centaged 60 or over, he admitted the Catholic Church may be forced to change its rule of celibacy to restore clergy numbers. He said: "The church may have to consider the ordination of married men and, with time, maybe that will come about."