Tony Blair’s priest fixed papal knighthoods for cash: Senior Catholic took up to £50k donations for honours
By IAN GALLAGHER
UPDATED: 16:22 GMT, 12 October 201
Suspended: Father Michael Seed’s superiors are said to be ‘appalled’
- Senior Catholic Fr Michael Seed admits soliciting charity donations of up to £50,000 for prestigious honours
- Franciscan Friars ‘appalled’ by MoS disclosures… as Seed admits his actions could be ‘morally wrong’
One of Britain’s most high-profile Catholic priests has admitted arranging papal knighthoods for wealthy businessmen for money.
Father Michael Seed, who regularly celebrated Mass for Tony Blair and his family in Downing Street, now faces questions from his religious order after an investigation by The Mail on Sunday.
The most damaging evidence concerns his attempted cultivation of an Israeli arms dealer, Hezi Bezalel, who was seeking business opportunities in the Balkans.
It shows that Fr Seed, a former ecumenical adviser to the Archbishop of Westminster, had ‘agreed’ a papal knighthood for Mr Bezalel before approaching him. In return for a £45,000 donation to charity, Fr Seed said he could also introduce Mr Bezalel to influential Balkan politicians ‘and the man who looks after all arms for the region’. Mr Bezalel declined the offer, saying he did not give to charity ‘under instruction’.
Papal knighthoods are awarded to lay men and women for conspicuous service to the church and society. They are among the highest honours the Pope can bestow.
Tonight a source close to Fr Seed’s order, the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, said his superiors were ‘appalled’. Although he failed to solicit funds from Mr Bezalel, at least four wealthy Britons were impressed by his overtures. Fr Seed admitted they made donations to an Archbishop friend’s charity in Serbia to become papal knights.
It was unclear last night if the four, who are each understood to have contributed between £25,000 and £50,000, had done anything else to merit their honour.
Our inquiries also reveal that:
- Fr Seed gave a £34,000 cheque drawn from his order’s charity bank account to a friend, Chinese businesswoman Xuelin Black, who later paid the money into his personal account. Last night the order said it was auditing accounts over the disclosure. Ms Black, 47, who was made a papal dame by Pope Benedict XVI, is a Tory donor and adviser to the Government’s Big Society project.
- Fr Seed is on indefinite leave from his order after claims that he marked the 25th anniversary of his ordination in January with a champagne party at a racy club, with entertainment provided by men dressed as nuns.
- He lives rent-free in a flat owned by one of his wealthy papal knights in exclusive Dolphin Square in Pimlico, Central London.
Fr Seed, who has taken a vow of poverty, denied profiting from any of the deals. But he agreed that trying to solicit funds from Mr Bezalel could be seen as ‘morally wrong’.
Asked if he thought many would see the deal as an abuse of the papal honours system, he said: ‘Of course I do.’
Fr Seed is honorary chaplain to the International Committee on Human Dignity, based at the European Parliament in Brussels. But it was as unofficial Catholic envoy to Parliament that he acquired many well-connected friends. He was praised by Cherie Blair for turning ‘the great into the good’ and helped to convert Tony Blair, Ann Widdecombe, John Gummer and the Duchess of Kent.Admission: Father Seed is facing questions from his religious order
When he approached Mr Bezalel in Novemberhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/…/Tony-Blairs-priest-fixed-papal-knighthoods-…
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