Pope Benedict XVI used a personal audience with outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair to express his displeasure at the advancement in gay rights in the UK.

During his 25-minute private meeting with Tony Blair on Saturday, the Pope questioned the use of stem cells in research, the availability of abortion, civil partnerships and adoption by gay couples, as well as the war in Iraq.

Downing St said that the gay issues were raised by Vatican officials but not the Pope.

The Vatican described the exchanges as a “frank exchange,” which in diplomatic language translates as a profound disagreement.

Later Mr Blair gave the Pontiff antique pictures of 19th Century English Cardinal Henry Newman, who is in the process of being made a saint.

Mrs Blair is reported to have said to the Pope: “I believe you are very familiar with him and he is on the journey to sainthood.”

To which the Pope responded: “Yes, yes, although it is taking some time – miracles are hard to come by in Britain.”

The gift is seen as highly significant as Cardinal Newman is a famous convert to Catholicism. Mr Blair is widely expected to convert to Catholicism within weeks of leaving office this Wednesday.