Blair seen converting to Catholicism

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tony Blair will meet Pope Benedict at the Vatican on Saturday to prepare to convert to Roman Catholicism, newspapers reported on Friday.

Prime Minister Tony Blair (R) smiles as he walks to the EU heads of states and governments summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels June 22, 2007. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The Guardian quoted unidentified sources in London and Rome as saying Blair, who is Anglican, had decided to seek admission to the Catholic Church.

Blair is due to step down as prime minister next Wednesday, handing over power to Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Blair’s spokesman and a Vatican source have said Blair plans to travel to Rome to see the pope on Saturday but have said nothing about any conversion plans.

A spokesman for Blair -- who is attending a European Union summit in Brussels -- declined comment on reports in the Guardian and Daily Telegraph that he intended to convert.

“There are matters of personal belief which I don’t deal with,” the spokesman said.

“The prime minister wishes ... to talk to the pope, as he has done in the past, about not just inter-faith issues, but also global and regional issues, and one of those obviously is the situation in the Middle East,” he said.

The Guardian said the timing of Blair’s conversion announcement was uncertain. It was not expected to happen in Rome and might be made either before or after Blair leaves office next week, it said.

The newspaper quoted informed sources as saying Blair had been prepared for conversion by a Royal Air Force chaplain who had said private mass for the Blair family for the last four years.

The Telegraph said it understood Blair would begin formal moves to become Catholic as soon as possible after handing over to Brown.

“It is clear to many people that this is now going to happen,” the paper quoted an unnamed source.

Blair’s wife Cherie and their four children are Catholics and there has long been speculation that Blair might convert once he left office.

Blair is believed to have taken communion from the late Pope John Paul during a visit to the Vatican in 2003, although the Vatican has never confirmed this.