Widdecombe pours scorn on Carey; he pours tea for her

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ANN WIDDECOMBE, one of the most prominent recent converts to Roman Catholicism, is the object of a charm offensive by the Archbishop of Canterbury, writes Rachel Sylvester.

Dr George Carey recently wrote to the Tory health spokeswoman inviting her for tea at Lambeth Palace in an attempt to stop her criticising the Church of England.

Miss Widdecombe, who left the church over the ordination of women, replied that she would be delighted to drink his Earl Grey tea and eat his biscuits, but she insisted that she would not change her views on the "weak and ineffective" Anglican leadership.

Dr Carey's surprising overture followed a potentially furious row between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches caused by an essay by Miss Widdecombe.

The Tory frontbencher claimed that Cardinal Basil Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster and Catholic Primate of England and Wales, was privately "contemptuous" of Dr Carey. Cardinal Hume was forced to write to the Anglican leader assuring him that he had "always valued [his] friendship and kindness".

Shortly after the essay appeared in the book Basil Hume: By His Friends, Dr Carey wrote to Miss Widdecombe inviting her to tea so that they could try to sort out their differences. According to friends, he wanted to show that he had no hard feelings and wanted to rebuild bridges with the Catholic convert.

However, the Archbishop's staff were astonished by Miss Widdecombe's reply, which said that the Church of England was failing in its duties and criticised its "weak and ineffective" leaders.

The Tory frontbencher said last night that she would be "delighted" to have tea with Dr Carey. However, she said that she believed that the Archbishop had not tackled what she considered to be the flaws in the present character of the Church of England.

"I consider that I was perfectly in order to criticise the Church of England hierarchy's weak and ineffective response to the challenges of the modern world," she said.

"They have not taken a firm line on moral issues, the collapse of the family, abortion; there have been very weak and equivocal statements on divorce; and they do not appear to be able to preach individual responsibility. I'm quite happy to go and talk these things through with the Archbishop but I'm not going to change my position."

Dr Carey has not yet replied.