BY ANGUS MACDONALD CARDINAL HUME today receives the Duchess of Kent into the Catholic Church in a private ceremony at the chapel of Archbishop's House in Westminster. Only a few family and close friends are expected to attend the service.
The Duchess's decision to convert entirely unprecedented for a member of the Royal Family was announced in a short statement from St James's Palace earlier this week. She is the first senior member of the Royal Family publicly to become a Catholic since the Reformation.
The Duchess is said to have given close thought to the matter over many years, having been a loyal member of the Church of England for most of her life. She has been taking instruction from senior Catholic Churchmen "for some time".
The news was warmly welcomed by Catholics throughout England and Wales. Bishop Gordon Wheeler, the retired Bishop of Leeds, and a family friend, told the Catholic Herald: "I knew she was always very attracted to the Church. She is a very wellknown Yorkshire character. I am delighted to know that she has finally found her way. She has been thinking about it for such a long time."
All sides were anxious to play down any hint of triumphalism in the move, which a spokesman described as "entirely a matter of personal faith".
He stressed that it had no connection with current issues affecting the Church of England or the Royal Family, though some are bound to view it coming in the wake of other recent high-profile conversions as a significant boost for the Catholic Church in this country at a time when the Church of England faces difficulties.
Both Churches played down any wider significance to the timing of the move or its effect on ecumenical relations, however. Cardinal Hume said in a statement: "The Duchess of Kent's decision to become a Roman Catholic is a purely personal one. We must all respect a person's conscience in these matters, and I know that the Duchess recognises how much she owes to the Church of England, for which she still holds great affection."
He went on: "She has become a close friend of Westminster Cathedral over many years and I know she will be warmly welcomed by the Catholic community."
It is thought that the Duchess will continue to worship at Westminster Cathedral whilst she is in London. The Duke and Duchess also have a home in the Oxfordshire village of Nettlebed, near Henley, and it is thought that Her Royal High ness may also worship in a private chapel at nearby Stonor Park, the country seat of CatholiC Peer Lord Camoys.
A spokesman told the Catholic Herald that it was "not likely" the Duke would join his wife in coming to Rome. The door may now be open, however, for the conversions of other members of the Royal Family. Princess Diana, who has a close attachment to Mother Teresa, was rumoured last year to be seeking instruction in the Faith.