The former Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is “seriously ill” in hospital.

The 84-year-old became leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales in March 2000, before retiring from his role in 2009.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the current Archbishop of Westminster, has written to the Bishops of England and Wales and to all priests in the diocese to ask for prayers for Cardinal Cormac, whose health “has taken a defining turn”.

He added: “As you will know so clearly, for Cardinal Cormac these loving prayers are a source of great strength and comfort as he calmly ponders on all that lies ahead, all in God’s good time.

“May the Lord strengthen him in faith and trust and may the prayers of the Church, which he loves so much, comfort and uphold him.”

In a statement on the diocese of Arundel and Brighton website, where Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor used to be bishop, current leader Bishop Richard Moth said: “Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor is seriously ill in hospital and I would ask you to remember him very specially in your prayers.”

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who was born in Reading in August 1932, is the only Archbishop of Westminster to have ever stood down from the post.