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Blair expected to become a Catholic
LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair is to announce that he will convert to Roman Catholicism soon after his planned meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican tomorrow, according to church sources and his friends.
Mr. Blair, an Anglican, may even inform the pope of his intentions and seek his approval at the audience, which he is expected to attend with his wife, Cherie, a devout Catholic, and their daughter Kathryn.
A source aware of Mr. Blair’s views said: “It is clear to many people that this is now going to happen.”
There has never been a Catholic prime minister in Britain, although there is no longer a formal constitutional bar. However, Mr. Blair would have been aware that to convert while at 10 Downing Street could have caused a potential conflict with his role in choosing bishops for the Church of England.
His audience with the pope — which could be postponed if the European Summit overruns its schedule — will be his third visit to the Vatican in four years and reflects his growing fascination with Catholicism.
Mr. Blair is also expected to discuss the Middle East and his growing interest in promoting cooperation and understanding among the faiths, which friends say will be a key part of a new foundation he plans to establish.
Friends say that he studies both the Bible and the Koran daily, and much of his political philosophy has been influenced by the social teachings of the Catholic Church. He is a particular admirer of the maverick German theologian Hans Kung.
The latest round of speculation was sparked last month by the Rev. Michael Seed, a friend of the Blair family who has celebrated Mass at 10 Downing Street, who suggested that Mr. Blair would convert to Catholicism after leaving Downing Street.
Church sources have been saying for some time that Mr. Blair, whose three children have been brought up as Catholics, was already a Catholic in all but name as he rarely attended Anglican services except on state occasions.
In the past he has attended Mass at Westminster Cathedral in London with his family and, for security reasons, at 10 Downing Street.
By Brahma Chellaney
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