BY FREDDY GRAY
Rumourts that Prime Minister Tony Blair will convert to Catholicism gained momentum this week after it emerged that a Catholic priest has been celebrating regular Masses in the sitting room of 10 Downing Street.
Fr Michael Seed, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement who is renowned for persuading senior politicians to join the Church, has been conducting Masses for the Prime Minister's Catholic family.
Mr Blair, an Anglican, participates in the services but does not receive Holy Communion.
The Blairs used to visit Westminster Cathedral on Sundays, hut since 2003 they have attended private Masses in Downing Street and Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence in Buckinghamshire, because of security fears. The family altered their Mass-going habits after the terrorist attacks of September II in America. At first they visited various London churches in "random rotation" to confuse potential assassins. But heightened security following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 prompted the switch to Masses at Downing Street.
The Masses in Downing Street involve members of the family allegedly stepping forth to take part in readings from the Gospels.
The news has re-ignited rumours that Tony Blair will convert under the spiritual guidance of Fr Seed after he steps down as Prime Minister. Fr Seed has brought several high-profile figures into the Church, including the Conservative politicians Ann Widdecombe and John Gummer.
Whispers that Mr Blair will cross the Tiber have persisted throughout his premiership. In 1998 he was spotted at a Mass in Westminster Cathedral on his own, prompting a sharp rebuke from the then Anglican leader Dr George Carey. In reply, Mr Blair explained that he was not about to "defect" and that his wife and children were supposed to have attended Mass with him, but had arrived late.
In 1996 Cardinal Basil Hume wrote to Mr Blair asking him not to present himself for Holy Communion during Mass at the Church of St Joan of Arc, near his north London home.
Mr Blair accepted the ruling but made it clear that he did not agree. "I wonder what Jesus would have made of it," he wrote in reply.
Mr Blair has reportedly twice received the Sacrament since Cardinal Hume's intervention: from Pope John Paul 11 at the Vatican and once while on holiday in Tuscany.
Mary Kenny: Page 10