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Saturday, 12 January, 2002, 16:33 GMT
Anglican bishop has 'Catholic past'
Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester
False claims were made about the Bishop of Rochester
The Bishop of Rochester - the man tipped to become the next head of the Church of England - used to worship as a Roman Catholic, it has emerged.

The Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali's past came to light in newspapers just days after Dr George Carey announced his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury.

It is wholly unremarkable that someone has started on their path as a Roman Catholic and later moved to the Anglican church

Church of England

The Times says Dr Nazir-Ali became involved with the Roman Catholic Church while attending a Catholic school at the age of 15 - but that he was received into the Anglican Church at about the time of his 20th birthday.

But a Church of England spokeswoman said there was nothing unusual about the spiritual path taken by Dr Nazir-Ali.

"It is wholly unremarkable that someone has started on their path as a Roman Catholic and later moved to the Anglican church," the spokeswoman said.

"There are many people in the church who have moved from one to the other. It is just that the bishop happens to be a prominent member of the Anglican Church."

'Smear campaign'

But the disclosure prompted claims that Dr Nazir-Ali had fallen victim to a smear campaign.

Just before Christmas, it was alleged that he had misrepresented his age - a claim which was quickly disproved by a church inquiry.

Other false claims are reported to have suggested that he fabricated academic qualifications; that he has been previously married; and that he bought his first bishopric.

I ask for prayers for myself at this time and I also ask people to pray for those involved in the appointment process

Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali
Bishop of Rochester

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the claims are symptomatic of the intense jockeying between the conservative and liberal wings of the church to install their favoured candidate as successor to Dr Carey.

But, he stressed: "Movement between the two churches is not uncommon, and the revelation is unlikely to weigh heavily with members of the appointments commission or the prime minister, who will choose the next Archbishop."

'Dirty tricks'

The Crown Appointments' Commission, a 16-member body of bishops and church officials, will decide on two names to recommend to Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose choice will be ratified by the Queen.

Dr Nazir-Ali asked for people to pray for him and those involved in the appointment process for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In a statement he also said: "I ask for prayers... that God's will be done, because whoever leads the church is doing so at a difficult time.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey
Dr Carey will retire in October

"I ask now to be allowed to get on with my job.

"There are souls to be saved. Let us address ourselves to that."

The Bishop of Winchester, the Right Rev Michael Scott-Joynt - one of Bishop Nazir-Ali's fellow contenders for the post - said it made no difference whether he was once a member of the Roman Catholic Church. He hoped the contest would not be marred by dirty tricks.

"I hope there isn't any and if there is, then we've got to be absolutely clear that that's the wrong way of going on, whether in this discussion or any other," he said.

Other bishops thought to be candidates for the Archbishopric include the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Rowan Williams - touted as the leading liberal contender - and the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres.

The BBC's Robert Piggot
"The latest claims were clearly designed to harm the bishop's prospects"
The Sunday Times' Christopher Morgan
"He is seen as a standard-bearer for conservatism in the Church of England"
Reverend Mervyn Roberts
"He is a man of integrity... and he is doing a wonderful job in Rochester"
See also:

08 Jan 02 | UK
Blair leads Carey tributes
08 Jan 02 | UK
Lining up for Canterbury
30 Jun 99 | UK Politics
Asian bishop joins Lords
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