Saturday, 23 June 2007
Tony Blair to Cross the Tiber?
Will he or won't he? Rumour-mills have been churning ferociously in recent days, sprinkling little tidbits pertaining to Prime Minister Tony Blair's possible conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. Most pundits feel fairly certain that the Prime Minister shall cross the Tiber sometime after leaving office which, given that he departs Number 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, may well be sooner rather than later.
The issue became a "hot topic" last week following comments by Father Michael Seed which were reported in various national newspapers. Father Michael, the Franciscan Friar involved in the conversion of HRH The Duchess of Kent, Anne Widdecombe, M.P., and former Cabinet Minister John Gummer, is a friend of the Blairs and conducts Mass for them every week at Number 10 Downing Street.
Father Michael and I share mutual friends and I dined with him a few weeks ago; however we did not discuss the issue of the Prime Minister's possible conversion and so I cannot claim any special knowledge of this subject. But, I do know that he is in a privileged position to know about such things and therefore it is likely to be true. At any rate, the Prime Minister himself does not seem interested in quashing these rumours. If anything, he has actively fuelled speculation.
There can surely be little coincidence that the Prime Minister's final foreign visit was to Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican, nor that the gift he presented to His Holiness comprised three framed photographs of Cardinal Newman, perhaps Britain's most revered Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism.
I watched the Prime Minister closely as he presented His Holiness with the gift. The pride and joy so clearly etched on his face left me in no doubt as to his desire to convert.
Yesterday, when questioned about the likelihood of his conversion, the Prime Minister chose not to deny the rumours but said: "I don't want to talk about it. It's difficult with some of these things. Things aren't always as resolved as they might be." Along with providing a clear indication that he does want to convert, one cannot help but wonder whether this quote suggests that he might have received a little grilling in Rome regarding some of the decisions he has taken as Prime Minister.
For I am surely not alone in thinking it odd that a Prime Minister who has engaged in a war which was condemned both by the current Pope and by his predecessor should have an easy entry into the Church. Speaking about the possibility of an invasion of Iraq before his election to the papacy, the then Cardinal Ratzinger said:
"All I can do is invite you to read the Catechism, and the conclusion seems obvious to me…the concept of preventive war does not appear in The Catechism of the Catholic Church." Later he would say: "It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world."
Following the start of the War His Future Holiness was unequivocal in his views: "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war'."
One might also wonder whether Tony Blair was asked to explain to the Holy Father why his Government tried to force faith schools in England to open up to accept 25% of pupils from other faith backgrounds -- a move which was strongly, and successfully, opposed by the Catholic church.
Similarly, Tony Blair may find himself in a slightly uncomfortable position if the Pope decides to ask him if he doesn't think it slightly odd that he should seek entry to the Roman Catholic faith so soon after his Government created civil partnerships between gay couples and, most recently, ignored the Roman Catholic Church's desperate plea to exempt Roman Catholic adoption agencies from equality laws on gay adoption. And of course his Government's stance on abortion and stem cell research, and his wife's support of planned parenthood groups, is not likely to gain him many bonus points either.
Tony Blair is also in breach of the Code of Canon Law as he is known to have taken Communion repeatedly, despite the fact that, as a non-Roman Catholic, he is only permitted to take Communion when he is in danger of death or when there is no church of his own faith within reasonable reach. Neither situation presented itself on any of the occasions when Tony Blair received Communion; indeed, several years ago his decision to take Communion at Westminster Cathedral resulted in a letter of rebuke from the late Cardinal Basil Hume, OSB, OM.
Whether I personally agree or disagree with any of the Prime Minister's decisions is irrelevant; I simply find it odd that he should apparently regard the Roman Catholic Church as a natural home. I for one hope very much that, if he does convert, he shall publish a detailed account of his motivation and the reasoning behind his decision.