By Simon Caldwell THE Qut_FN has appointed Cardinal Basil Hume to the Order of Merit — a personal gift from the Sovereign to individuals of 'exception distinction".
Cardinal Hume, who announced last month he is suffering from inoperable cancer, will be the 21st person to join the Order out of a possible 24, and the 161st since it was founded in 1902 by King Edward VII.
He said: "I am deeply touched that Her Majesty the Queen should have so graciously conferred upon me the Order of Merit.
"I would like tothink that it is a recognition of the part played by Her Majesty's loyal Catholic subjects — laity, clergy and bishops — in the life of the nation."
A Palace spokesman said: "It is a special mark of honour conferred by the Sovereign on individuals of exception distinction. Appointments are in the Sovereign's personal gift and ministerial advice is not required."
Other Catholics to have joined the Order include Leonard Cheshire, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Graham Greene.
The Queen, who is believed to refer affectionately to Cardinal Hume as "my cardinal", was the first monarch elier to attend a service at Westminster Cathedral.