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'Catholic conspiracy' writer to sue: Andrew Brown reports on the article that has opened up a religious divide

CLIFFORD LONGLEY, for many years the respected religious affairs editor of the Times, is threatening to sue that newspaper for libel after it published an article alleging he was part of a Roman Catholic conspiracy against the Church of England.

Mr Longley is now a leader writer and columnist on the Daily Telegraph. In his column there on 21 January, he wrote that 'much hurt to Anglican feelings has been given by a series of outspoken articles in the press . . . (but) Catholic church leaders have wisely perceived that flirting with the idea promoted by some maverick lay Catholic or Anglican dissident voices that Catholicism might somehow soon take over from Anglicanism its role in English national life is absurd and dangerous'.

The Rev Dr Tim Bradshaw, dean of a small private college in Oxford, claimed in the Times four days later that the Church of England had been the victim of 'a vicious and persistent campaign at the hands of several journalists from a powerful corps of right- wing Roman Catholic journalists . . . in a bold and often extreme fashion attacking the Church of England while promoting the claims of Rome'.

Amongst these he numbered Mr Longley, who said yesterday that he would be suing Dr Bradshaw, Times Newspapers, and Peter Stothard, the editor. One of Mr Stothard's first acts on taking power had been to negotiate Mr Longley's departure from his post as an assistant editor.

For good measure, Dr Bradshaw's article suggested that the Telegraph group as a whole was hostile to the Church of England because its owner, Conrad Black, is a Roman Catholic. Mr Black is known to take a very dim view of this suggestion.

Other journalists alleged by Dr Bradshaw to be part of this Catholic assault on the Church of England include Cristina Odone, the editor of the Catholic Herald; William Oddie, once an Anglican priest and now a Roman Catholic journalist; and the historian Paul Johnson, who, writing in the Catholic Herald at Christmas, announced that 'the Anglicans are beginning to come over, led by the most devout and conscientious of the clergy . . . if ever there was an occasion for a radiant and public Te Deum, this is it'.

He compared the disintegration of the Church of England, for which he has been praying, with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Leading article, page 13