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Pope 'convert' offer backlash fears

The British ambassador to the Vatican feared a backlash against Catholics in the UK after the Pope encouraged Anglicans to convert over the issue of female priests, according to the latest US embassy cables revealed by WikiLeaks.

The wires, published by the Guardian, include comments made by Francis Campbell, the British ambassador to the Holy See, who said: "Anglican-Vatican relations were facing their worst crisis in 150 years as a result of the Pope's decision."

His comments came after Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams was a guest of honour at a dinner with Vatican officials.

The cable from US ambassador Miguel Diaz said Mr Campbell believed Pope Benedict XVI had put the Archbishop in an "impossible position".

It said: "The Vatican decision seems to have been aimed primarily at Anglicans in the US and Australia, with little thought given to how it would affect the centre of Anglicanism, England, or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"Benedict XVI, Campbell said, had put Williams in an impossible situation. If Williams reacted more forcefully, he would destroy decades of work on ecumenical dialogue; by not reacting more harshly, he has lost support among angry Anglicans.

"The crisis is also worrisome for England's small, mostly Irish-origin, Catholic minority, Campbell said. There is still latent anti-Catholicism in some parts of England and it may not take much to set it off. The outcome could be discrimination or in isolated cases, even violence, against this minority."

The cables, which date back to November 2009, also reveal Dr Williams had "challenged" the Catholic Church's position over the ordination of women before the Pope had urged disaffected Anglicans to convert.

Dr Williams' visit to Rome was "cast as positive", according to the cables, but said "it's clear the wounds from this controversy will affect that dialogue negatively".

The latest dispatches from the WikiLeaks cache also suggested the Irish government "failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty" during investigations into child abuse by the clergy.


From Belfast Telegraph