Queen invites cardinal to preach to Royal Family
The British Queen has made an unprecedented gesture of goodwill towards the Roman Catholic Church of England and Wales by inviting its leader to stay at Sandringham and to preach to the Royal Family.
The invitation to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor marks a formal end to 500 years of antagonism and suspicion between the monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor will be the first Catholic Archbishop of Westminster to stay with the Queen at her Norfolk estate and to preach at the Sunday morning service.
It is expected that Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and other members of the Royal Family will be staying at Sandringham on the same weekend of 12-13 January.
"The cardinal is greatly honoured by the Queen's invitation," said his spokesman yesterday. "This is a further sign of the Queen's own determination to promote ecumenical relations within the nation."
The Queen's invitation to the cardinal is the culmination of years of careful and gradual friendship-building between the historic enemies.
The first olive branch offered by the Queen was in 1982 when she greeted Pope John Paul II at Buckingham Palace. In November 1995 she became the first monarch since the Stuarts to take part in a Catholic service when she attended vespers at Westminster Cathedral.
The Queen was also an admirer of the late Cardinal Basil Hume, whom she called "my cardinal". In 1999, when he was dying of cancer, she appointed him to the Order of Merit. The honour was greeted as a sign of his success in moving the Catholic Church to the heart of British public life.
A Palace spokesman acknowledged the historic significance of the invitation. He said: "This is in the spirit of co-operation, unity and friendship that Her Majesty has always practised. It is a sign of the ecumenical age we are in."