The British ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, warned that Pope Benedict XVI’s invitation to Anglican opponents of female priests to convert en masse to Catholicism was so inflammatory that it might lead to discrimination and even violence against Catholics in Britain, according to a secret US diplomatic cable.
Talking to a US diplomat after the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, met the pope in November last year, Campbell said the surprise Vatican move had placed Williams “in an impossible situation” and “Anglican-Vatican relations were facing their worst crisis in 150 years as a result of the pope’s decision.”
Campbell’s strikingly candid comments are documented in one of a series of confidential dispatches from Washington’s Vatican embassy released by WikiLeaks.
Others reveal that the Vatican refused to allow its officials to testify before an Irish commission investigating abuse of children by priests and was angered when they were summoned from Rome and that the pope was responsible for the Vatican’s resistance to Turkey joining the EU and wanted a reference to Europe’s “Christian roots” included in the EU constitution.
Campbell, himself a Catholic, made his remarks in a conversation with the US deputy chief of mission to the Holy See, Julieta Valls Noyes, after the pope decided to announce a special dispensation allowing disaffected Anglicans to convert in groups while retaining their own leadership and some of their rites, in a body called an Ordinariate.
This had been arranged in Rome behind the backs of the English Catholic bishops and Williams was given little warning. An official Vatican statement described the meeting in November last year between Williams and the pontiff as cordial, but Campbell told the US ambassador, theology professor Miguel Diaz, that it was “at times awkward.”
At a subsequent dinner held in Williams’s honor and attended by senior Vatican officials, Campbell told Noyes “Anglican-Vatican relations were facing their worst crisis in 150 years as a result of the pope’s decision,” a cable sent to Washington shortly afterward revealed.
“The crisis is worrisome for England’s small, mostly Irish-origin, Catholic minority. There is still latent anti-Catholicism in some parts of England and it may not take much to set it off,” Campbell said.
“The outcome could be discrimination or in isolated cases, even violence, against this minority,” he said.
The ambassador told Noyes the decision had shifted the goal of the Catholic-Anglican ecumenical dialogue “from true unity to mere co-operation” and claimed that some Vatican officials believed the pope had been wrong not to consult the archbishop before making the announcement.