LONDON – Pope Benedict XVI will next year make the first visit to Britain by a pontiff in decades, British media reported Wednesday.
Reporters traveling to New York with Prime Minister Gordon Brown reported news of the planned visit, but Brown's Downing Street office refused to officially confirm it.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said he was encouraged and pleased by reports of the pope's visit. He said the British government had invited the pope on several occasions, but that any official confirmation would have to come from the Vatican.
"We are glad the Holy Father is giving such consideration to the invitations he has received from Her Majesty's government, which accord closely to the wishes and requests also expressed by the bishops of England and Wales," Nichols said in a statement. "The prospect of a visit by Pope Benedict fills us with joy."
Three British newspapers and the Sky News and BBC broadcasters all cited unidentified sources in reporting the planned visit.
In Rome, a Catholic church source said a visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Britain is among the possible trips he may make in 2010. The source asked not to be identified because trip planning is still being worked out and no dates have been set. Other possible trips include to Malta and Fatima, Portugal.
Announcements of such visits generally are made first by the local church.
The last visit to Britain by the head of the Roman Catholic Church was by Pope John Paul II in 1982.