James Murdoch paid £100,000 to meet Pope

The Catholic Church has been criticised for accepting a six-figure donation from James Murdoch ahead of him being given a personal audience with Pope Benedict during last year's papal visit. Mr Murdoch was among major donors who were invited to personally greet Pope Benedict after a special mass at Westminster Cathedral during the pontiff's visit last September. It is believed that the Murdoch family paid a contribution towards the Papal visit of around £100,000.

The continuing scandal over phone hacking has placed religious institutions in a moral quandary. There have already been calls for the Church of England to divest its £3.8m shares in News Corp, a request which church leaders have so far resisted.

There is growing disquiet within the Catholic community over the Murdoch family's close ties to the church in Britain, America and in Rome.

Although not a Catholic, James's father Rupert was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory by the previous pontiff Pope John Paul II, one of the highest civilian honours the Vatican bestows on people. His wife at the time, Anna Torv, was a practising Catholic and the following year Mr Murdoch gave $10m to help build a cathedral in Los Angeles.

Speaking in today's edition of The Tablet, the influential Catholic weekly, one senior bishop called on the church to be more careful about who it accepts money from in light of the growing furore over News International's journalistic ethics.

"We'll have to be careful in the future about that particular source of money," said Bishop Kieran Conry of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. "A conversation needs to take place, discussion needs to take place. It is a public scandal and everyone knows Murdoch's empire is tainted by these revelations."

Francis Davis, a fundraiser for various religious causes, former government adviser and trustee of numerous charities, added: "Given the importance that the English bishops have attached to ethics in business since the banking crisis, it would now be extraordinary if the bishops were not to review the ethical provenance of this donation. And perhaps it raises questions about other donations we don't know about."

On the Catholic Herald website, readers voiced dismay that Mr Murdoch senior had been knighted by the Vatican and called for Rome to rescind the honour.

"Murdoch should certainly be stripped of his knighthood," wrote one reader. "He should never in the first place have been awarded it. Not only does his latest behaviour and that of his company and his son disqualify him, he has been an enemy of anything that passes for decency for years."

But William Oddie, a former editor of the Catholic Herald and a blogger on church issues, said "Just cancelling the knighthood simply gives the impression of futile censoriousness."

www.thetablet.co.uk

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