BY LUKE COPPEN
THE PiumE Minister received holy communion last month during a private Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul 11, news sources in Rome have claimed.
Tony Blair, an Anglican, attended a private Mass celebrated in the Pope's private chapel on February 22, with his wife and three eldest children, all of whom are Catholics.
Reports from Rome suggested that the Vatican's Secretariat of State granted a special dispensation for Mr Blair to receive communion. Neither the Vatican nor the Prime Minister's office have commented on the reports.
The dispensation would be in accordance with guidelines laid down by the bishops of England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland in the teaching document on the Eucharist, One Bread One Body. The document stated that non-Catholics may receive communion if they fufil four conditions: they must be properly disposed, believe in the Real Presence, greatly desire to receive the sacrament and be unable to receive the Eucharist in their own church.
The bishops said nonCatholics could request to receive holy communion "on a unique occasion for joy or for sorrow in the life of a family".
At the launch of One Bread One Body in 1998, the late Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume, revealed that he had written to Mr Blair asking him not to receive communion in Catholic churches in Britain. However, he said Mr Blair was entitled to receive communion while on holiday in Italy earlier that year.
He said: "It was OK in Tuscany because he couldn't get to his own church. He had spiritual need. He believes what we believe. So he responded entirely to Catholic teaching."
But Anglicans questioned whether the dispensation was just. The Revd Jonathan Boardman, chaplain of All Saints' Anglican church in Rome, said: "The granting of dispensations becomes highly charged to those of us to whom they are not granted."
The debate comes as Pope John Paul 11 prepares to publish an encyclical on the Eucharist in April.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who worked closely with the Pope on the forthcoming encyclical, has published a book calling for a renewal of Eucharistic devo tion.
"In the crisis of faith we are experiencing, the critical issue seems to be increasingly the correct celebration and correct understanding of the Eucharist," the Cardinal argues in An Intimate God on sale in Italian, published by St Paul's.
"All of us know the difference between a Church that prays and a Church that has been reduced to a museum.
"Today we run the risk of having our churches turned into museums and ending like museums: If they are not closed, they are pillaged. They have no life.
"The measure of the Church's vitality, the measure of its interior openness, will be reflected in the fact that its doors remain open, precisely because it is a church where there is constant prayer."