posted on 15 November 2005
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Appointment ‘has broken with the unspoken assumption that the British representative to the Holy See should not be a Catholic’
The Archbishop of Westminster has described the appointment of Francis Campbell as the new British ambassador to the Holy See as “imaginative” and says it puts to an end the notion that the post was reserved to non-Catholics.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor described the young Catholic career diplomat from Northern Ireland as “an experienced diplomat who has worked with the Prime Minister” who was also “familiar with the language and the workings of the Catholic Church”.
When he presents his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI in December, the 35-year-old Campbell will be Britain’s first Catholic ambassador to the Holy See since the Reformation.
Relations between the UK and the Holy See were restored in 1914 after a break of 350 years. An apostolic delegate – nowadays a “papal nuncio” – was appointed in 1938 to represent the Holy See to Great Britain. Full diplomatic relations were restored in 1982 prior to Pope John Paul II’s visit to the UK.
Ever since a Foreign Office memo in 1917 which said Britain’s Vatican representative “should not be filled with an unreasoning awe of the Pope”, the British representative has been a Protestant, with a Catholic as deputy. This continued after 1982, when the post was raised to ambassadorial status.
The Foreign Office made clear recently, however, that there was no bar to a Catholic taking the post.
The spiritual leader of the Roman Catholics of England and Wales welcomed the evidence of this in the new appointment, which he said “has broken with the unspoken assumption that the British representative to the Holy See should not be a Catholic.”
The Holy See is the seat of government of the Catholic Church. Although the state in which it resides, Vatican City, is the world’s smallest, the Holy See is the hub of a global network of a billion people which leading nations regard as vital to world diplomacy.
CARDINAL STATEMENT IN FULL:
“I welcome the appointment of Francis Campbell as Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See. An experienced diplomat who has worked closely with the Prime Minister, Mr Campbell is also familiar with the language and the workings of the Catholic Church. This is an imaginative appointment which has broken with the unspoken assumption that the British representative to the Holy See should not be a Catholic.”