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The most powerful Englishmen in Rome

SIR – According to Dennis Sewell (Books, December 8), Catherine Pepinster’s thesis that relations between Britain and the Holy See are warm and getting warmer is based on three reasons: the continuing embourgeoisement of this country’s Catholic population; the fact that British Catholics are in senior positions in the Curia; and (more tendentiously) that Rome looks to Britain as a model of how to adapt to secularism.

To advance her second point she suggests that Archbishop Paul Gallagher is “arguably the highest English office holder in Rome since … Pope Adrian IV in the 12th century”.

However, Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York (the brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie), was dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, and Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (who was born in London and educated at Ushaw College) was first secretary of state under Pius X and then head of the Holy Office (known in those days as La Suprema, the Supreme Congregation) under both Benedict XV and Pius XI.

Before 1965 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (previously known as the Holy Office) reigned supreme – and the secretary of state was always subject to the judgments of the Holy Office.

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