Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Worldliness Of A Church And Its Converts

"A [Vatican] spokesman said such an 'authoritative personality' [Tony Blair] choosing to join the Catholic Church 'could only give rise to joy and respect'." (BBC News)

"OUT OF office and out of danger of igniting a constitutional crisis, former prime minister Tony Blair, after years of worship as a closet Roman Catholic, has announced his formal conversion to the faith. During mass at the Archbishop's House in Westminster on Friday, Blair was received into the Church and given full communion. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, who led the service, said the new convert had been a regular at mass with his family and in recent months had been following a programme to prepare him for the 'reception into full communion'....Those close to him believe that even as far back as his student days at Oxford, when he first met his Catholic wife, Cherie, the decision to convert was put off to avoid political prejudices Blair came to believe could affect his career. Although Iain Duncan Smith and Charles Kennedy led the Tories and LibDems as Catholics, Blair kept his religious leanings quiet....Blair's contradiction is that he practised his faith in private, yet preached political boldness in public. As New Labour's leader, he ripped apart the traditions of the party, and maintained Labour were best at their boldest. Yet Blair, who once said he regarded Jesus 'as a moderniser', kept his faith quiet....Blair was first noticed at mass in Westminster Cathedral, both with his family and alone, in the years between becoming Labour leader in 1994 and winning the 1997 general election, but it is believed he had been attending mass since soon after his marriage in 1980. He became an MP in 1983, and a frontbench spokesman the following year. If he believed the top job in British politics would some day be his, did he decide open and public Catholicism would have to wait till he left office?...Before the 1997 election, Blair regularly took communion at his local Catholic church in Islington. Technically, though, he was breaking the rules. Being leader of the opposition did not constitute 'a grave and pressing spiritual need' - the exemption that allows non-Catholics to take part in mass. Blair was also doing much the same thing at Westminster Cathedral, and Cardinal Basil Hume even wrote to Blair to ask him to stop attending because he was not a Catholic....Blair, however, found a way to practise his Catholicism in private and regularly attended church when he was at Chequers. Father Michael Seed is said to have been the priest who regularly visited 10 Downing Street - but by the back door - as Blair's spiritual adviser. In public, and on the advice of Alastair Campbell, his communications chief, Blair 'didn't do God'. On the eve of the Iraq war, Blair wanted to end a broadcast with 'God bless', but Campbell persuaded him to stick to a secular message. On TV last year, Blair told Michael Parkinson he had prayed before sending British troops to Iraq. More recently, though, Blair said he avoided talking about his religious views while he was in office for fear of being labelled 'a nutter'." (Sunday Herald)

"But converting earlier could have been tricky, because of his [Tony Blair's] role in peace talks between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, his government's legislation on same-sex partnerships and his role appointing Church of England bishops. His former press chief, Alastair Campbell -- who once told journalists 'we don't do God' when Blair was asked about religion -- told BBC television: 'His faith does matter an awful lot to him as people who've worked with him, those who have known him, they've known that for some time. 'And it's something that I suspect he probably felt he couldn't do as prime minister, he's done it now.'...Some commentators suggest that Blair will struggle to reconcile his Catholic faith with certain political decisions taken by his government such as allowing same-sex couples to enter into legally recognised civil partnerships. Lawmaker Ann Widdecombe, from the main opposition Conservative Party, who became a Catholic in 1993, said being received into the faith meant stating publicly: 'I believe everything the church teaches to be revealed truth.' 'And that means if you previously had any problems with church teaching, as Tony Blair obviously did over abortion, as he did again over Sunday trading... you would have to say you changed your mind,' she told Sky News television. John Smeaton, head of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said he would be writing to Blair to ask whether he has 'repented of the anti-life positions' he advocated during his political career. 'During his premiership Tony Blair became one of the world's most significant architects of the culture of death, promoting abortion, experimentation on unborn embryos, including cloned embryos, and euthanasia by neglect,' he added." (AFP)

Now that Blair is out of government, he can "do God" more than before. And Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams wishes him well:

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, wished Blair well in his spiritual journey. He added: 'A great Catholic writer of the last century said that the only reason for moving from one Christian family to another was to deepen one's relationship with God. I pray this will be the result of Tony Blair's decision in his personal life.'" (Sunday Herald)

Judging from Williams' comments, you wouldn't think that Blair had joined a denomination that contradicts Anglicanism on justification, the papacy, and so many other issues of such significance. Many Anglicans of past generations chose to die rather than convert to Roman Catholicism.

1 comment:

  1. Steve Jackson12/23/2007 2:37 PM

    Like they say, a liberal is someone who won't take his own side in argument. Dr. Williams would probably have said the same thing if Blair had become a Hindu or Moslem.