Former UK PM Tony Blair Converts to Catholicism

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who generally kept his religious views private while in office, has converted to Catholicism, church officials said Saturday.

Blair, who had long been a member of the Church of England, converted to the Catholic faith during a Mass held on Friday night at a chapel in London, the Catholic Church said.

"It can be confirmed that Tony Blair has been received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor," the head of the church in England and Wales, the church said in a statement.

"I'm very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church," the statement quoted Murphy-O'Connor as saying.

It said he had been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months has been following a program leading to his reception into the church.

There had long been speculation that Blair planned to convert to Catholicism. His wife, Cherie, is Roman Catholic and the couple's children have attended Catholic schools.

Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy, met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in June.

Earlier this year, the former prime minister told the BBC that he had avoided talking about his religious views while in office for about 10 years for fear of being labeled "a nutter."

In England's last census, 72 percent of people identified themselves as Christian. Many are Anglicans affiliated with the Church of England, which was created by royal proclamation during the 16th century after King Henry VIII — who married six times — broke ties with the Roman Catholic Church in a dispute over divorce.

The Church of England has said that less than 10 percent of its members are regular churchgoers.

Britons often express surprise at people who openly and fervently discuss their religious views.