Critics Attack Blair over Conversion to Catholicism; Ex-PM under Fire over Views While in Office

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Byline: BY TONY JONES Daily Post Correspondent

FORMER prime minister Tony Blair has converted to Catholicism, ending years of speculation and earning the praise of senior clerics.

Mr Blair was welcomed into the Roman Catholic church on Friday night by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor - leader of the Roman Catholics in England and Wales.

But his conversion was criticised by commentators who said some of his views while in office were at odds with church teachings.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor welcomed the politician's personal decision, which culminated in the ceremony at the chapel of the Archbishop's House in Westminster.

He said: "For a long time, he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a programme of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion."

He added: "My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together."

Mr Blair's formal conversion appears to have taken a number of months, and it is thought his decision followed a period of contemplation rather than a "falling out" with the Church of England over an issue such as the ordination of women priests.

Monsignor Mark O'Toole, the Cardinal's private secretary, led the politician through his period of spiritual preparation before last night's ceremony

The move comes after years of speculation that Mr Blair, whose wife Cherie and four children are Catholic, would convert from Anglicanism after he resigned from Number 10 in June.

Converting while in office would have caused the former premier, now a Middle-East peace envoy, problems in connection with issues such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality and faith schools.

Mr Blair's ex-spokesman Alastair Campbell once famously told reporters "We don't do God", but has since said that his former boss "does do God in quite a big way".

One of the politician's last acts in office was to visit Pope Benedict in June - his third trip to the Vatican in four years - and give the Pontiff a signed photograph of Cardinal Newman, Britain's most famous convert to Catholicism. …