Former prime minister Tony Blair has left the Church of England and converted to Catholicism, the faith of his wife and children.


Tony Blair met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in June. ((L'Osservatore Romano/Associated Press))

Blair converted during a mass Friday night at the private London chapel of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic
Church in England and Wales, the church said.

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

The church said Blair had been a regular worshipper at mass with his family and in recent months had been following a program leading to his reception into the church.

There had long been speculation that Blair planned to convert to Catholicism. Although he was an Anglican, Blair attended Catholic masses at Westminster Cathedral with his wife Cherie.

The couple's children have attended Catholic schools.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who is the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, wished Blair the best in his spiritual journey.

"Tony Blair has my prayers and good wishes as he takes this step in his Christian pilgrimage," he said.

"A great Catholic writer of the last century said that the only reason for moving from one Christian family to another was to deepen one's relationship with God. I pray that this will be the result of Tony Blair's decision in his personal life."

Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy, met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in June, the month he stepped down as Britain's prime minister.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the path Blair has been on "was not improvised, has lasted a long time and has been deep and serious."

Lombardi added that the Catholic community was "happy to welcome such a prominent person … at the end of a deeply spiritual personal path."