Blair said to be close to Catholicism

TONY BLAIR confided while on holiday in Italy that he was "very close" to Catholicism, according to the head of the diocese in which he was staying.

At the end of a specially arranged meeting with the Archbishop of Siena, in the sacristy of San Gimignano's Duomo, the Prime Minister - an Anglo- Catholic - expressed how close he felt to the Catholic faith, it is claimed.

Details of his private conversation with Mgr Gaetano Bonicelli, combined with reports that he was "so familiar" with the liturgy and responses during Mass in Italy that he "hardly needed" his Missal, have prompted speculation about his keenness to convert.

It is unclear whether he received communion at the Mass but, if he did, it would not have been the first time. On previous occasions, he has taken communion in Catholic churches. Mr Blair only desisted after it came to people's notice. Earlier this year he was seen going to Sunday Mass at Westminster Cathedral without the other members of his immediate family, all of whom are Catholic.

In an interview with The Catholic Herald newspaper this week, Archbishop Bonicelli said that Mr Blair had told him "that he felt very close to the Catholic Church, and to the world of Catholicism", as they were leaving San Gimignano's main church.

However, Downing Street was extremely defensive and moved to quash the story yesterday. William Odie, the former Anglican clergyman who was recently appointed editor of The Catholic Herald, said: "I'm not quite sure why Mr Blair is so cagey about it. What's so terrible about going to talk to an archbishop? It's almost as if it's some secret vice."

Mr Odie doubted that the Prime Minister would convert because, like many Anglo-Catholics, he probably already regards himself as a Catholic. "Having been an Anglo-Catholic myself," he said, "I know very well that Anglo- Catholics feel very close to Catholicism. Quite often this is a way of having a broadly Catholic view without having to go the whole way in various beliefs."

Archbishop Bonicelli said that he found it "normal" that Mr Blair showed such an interest in Catholicism. "His wife is Catholic and so are his children. I do not find the Anglican church and the Catholic church to be very different anyway, especially in creed." He added that the Prime Minister's comments did not amount to "an affirmation of a desire to convert".

Mr Blair and his wife, Cherie, arranged the meeting with the Archbishop in San Gimignano after the couple decided to change their plans and not go to Siena. The Archbishop is understood to have offered to go to the Renaissance villa of Prince Girolamo Strozzi, where the Blairs were staying. However, since the Archbishop was planning to be near San Gimignano for a religious procession, they agreed to meet in the town.

A Downing Street spokesman denied that the conversation between the two men on 13 August ever turned to conversion. He also refused to confirm or deny whether Mr Blair received communion at Catholic services in Italy.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments