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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 16:23 GMT
Cardinal to conduct royal service
The Queen and Pope meet
The Queen has already met the Pope
The Queen has invited the head of the Roman Catholic in England and Wales to conduct a service at her Sandringham home.

In a highly unusual move, the Queen, who is head of the Church of England, has asked Cardinal Murphy Cormac O'Connor to preach at a family service on 13 January.

A spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said it was the first time in "anybody's memory" that the guest preacher would not be an Anglican priest.

"This is in the spirit of co-operation, unity and friendship. It is a sign of the ecumenical age we are in," she added.

Cardinal O'Connor
Cardinal Cormac O'Connor will preach at Sandringham

The Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen Mother are expected to be staying at the Queen's Norfolk estate when the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster takes morning service in the Anglican church at Sandringham.

The invitation marks a softening in approach by the British crown to the Catholic church.

Commentators say that the Queen is being forced to embrace other branches and religions because of declining membership in the Church of England.

"There's a dilemma for the monarchy that the Church of England is a minority sect," constitutionalist and historian Ben Pimlott told The Daily Telegraph.

"If (the church) is going to continue to be a national institution, it needs to work out ways of extending olive branches" to other religions, he added.

"It is symbolic that it's at the beginning of the Jubilee year, which is an important year for redefining the monarchy," said Mr Pimlott.

See also:

25 Dec 00 | UK
Queen focuses on belief
17 Oct 00 | Europe
Queen and Pope discuss peace
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