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16 March 2010

The papal visit and a triumph for the Foreign Office . . .

. . . as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

By James Macintyre

The papal visit to the UK has been confirmed for September, representing a triumph for the Foreign Office and offering a tightening of relations between the Vatican and the Anglican Communion after that unfortunate little business between the two churches last October.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has today welcomed confirmation of the visit, saying: “The Pope’s visit will be an opportunity to cement ties not only between the Holy See and the United Kingdom, but also the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian churches in Scotland, England and Wales.

“I look forward particularly to welcoming Pope Benedict to Lambeth Palace on behalf of the Church of England.”

The visit to Lambeth Palace, by the way, is a first, and a hugely important sign of the respect the Pope has for Dr Williams.

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Talking of respect, it must go out to the BBC and the Foreign Office for an excellent series of films about Francis Campbell, Britain’s ambassador to the Vatican, about whom I first wrote in the New Statesman in 2005.

The first of the serious and fascinating documentaries can be watched here, and you should be able to find the links to the following two from there.

Campbell is apparently too modest to take credit for the visit, but Whitehall sources, ministers and MPs say he has worked extremely hard on it, and that relations between the Holy See and the UK have rarely, if ever, been stronger.