By LUKE COPPEN
BRFFAIN'S leading lay Catholic, the Duke of Norfolk, said this week that the Prime Minister is "too clever" a politician to risk losing Protestant support by becoming a Catholic.
In an interview with the German news agency, KNA, the Duke dismissed speculation that Tony Blair might become Catholic. "He is far too clever to do that," he said. "If he became Catholic then many Protestants would no longer support him." However, he said the law should be changed to allow a Catholic Prime Minister hold office. The Duke used the interview to call for modernisation of the church. "Our greatest problem," he said, "is that ever fewer people go to church and England is becoming a pagan country."
The Duke, 83, also called for greater lay participation in the church. "The Second Vatican Council said that lay people are important. But I don't believe that any bishop's conference in the world has taken that seriously," he said.
Asked about the next Pope, the Duke suggested that he should be someone able to deal with the burgeoning Church in China. He also suggested that the next Pope should reconsider the question of birth control.
DOWNING STREET this week denied that the Prime Minister had labelled Northern Irish Church leaders "useless" — according to the Irish Times — after meetings in Northern Ireland before the Drumcree stand-off, writes Joe Jenkins. A spokesman told the Catholic Herald: "Those are not the Prime Minister's views. That sounds like unreliable information."