In United Kingdom, the Church Still Gets Converts
And Father Michael Seed Knows Many of the Most Prominent
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Father Michael Seed, 44, has been the spiritual guide of the Duchess of Kent, and of politicians such as Conservative Ministers John Gummer and Anne Widdecombe, all converts to Catholicism.
Michael Seed grew up in a Manchester orphanage with psychiatric help and became a Franciscan in New York. He is now responsible for ecumenism in the Archdiocese of Westminster.
Father Seed does not go unnoticed. His statements make front-page news as, for example, his reaction to the imprisonment of Conservative Jeffrey Archer, the writer of detective novels, who was convicted of financial, sex-related scandals. Father Seed maintains that Archer should be forgiven.
"What do we know about what goes on in the heart and mind of another human being?" the priest asked.
Father Seed has this same charitable attitude toward Westminster´s politicians. He knows them all. Tony Blair goes to Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Sundays with his Catholic wife. Others familiar to him include William Hague, former Conservative Party leader; former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major; and Kenneth Clarke, who might take the Conservatives into the euro in the near future.
The priest of the famous and powerful also presides over baptisms, marriages and funerals like any other, but Conservatives of the High Church of England turn to him when contemplating conversion to Roman Catholicism.
"Not all are practicing," he says. "Of 660 parliamentarians, let´s say that 100 go to church regularly. However, they all have very high levels of honesty and civic duty, and these moral values bring them close to the Catholic Church." Like many others, Father Seed believes that Tony Blair is a step away from conversion to Catholicism.
"The oldest democracy in the world might soon be led by Catholics," Father Seed said. "Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is Catholic and so is Duncan Smith."
The most important change in the history of the Catholic Church in this country has been the transformation of a peripheral Church into a high level Church, a moral guide for the nation.
Paradoxically, even Cardinal Murphy O´Connor said as much in his speech to priests this week in which he lamented that Christianity was all but beaten in Britain.
Like its sisters, the Catholic Church is suffering from the crisis of vocations and the fall in Sunday Mass attendance. Yet every year it continues to attract 5,000 to 6,000 new adult members. In 1999, 5,026 Christians of other denominations became Catholics, through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Father Seed agrees with those who believe that, over the past decade, the country´s elites have been converting to Catholicism, anxiously seeking certainty and truth, and tired of the liberal church established by Henry VIII in the 1500s.
"The Catholic Church says it has the truth, not a truth," the priest said. "This is an important position to take in today´s world. It is what these politicians seek, who are tired of relative truths."
However, the Franciscan cautioned against fanaticism and fundamentalism. "It is difficult to understand God and his ways; a lifetime is required to reach the center of a faith," Father Seed said.