Former P.M. Tony Blair becomes Catholic

There is an interesting development in the UK.   For a while we have heard rumors that former Prime Minister Tony Blair might become a Catholic.

It happened.

Tony Blair joins Catholic Church

Former prime minister Tony Blair has left the Anglican Church to become a Roman Catholic.

His wife and children are already Catholic and there had been speculation he would convert after leaving office.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Conner, who led the service to welcome Mr Blair, said he was "very glad" to do so.

Last year, Mr Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy, said he had prayed to God when deciding whether or not to send UK troops into Iraq.

And one of Mr Blair’s final official trips while prime minister was a visit to the Vatican in June where he met Pope Benedict XVI.

‘Regular worshipper’

Mr Blair was received into full communion with the Catholic Church during Mass at Archbishop’s House, Westminster, on Friday.

 Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who is the head of Catholics in England and Wales, said: "I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church.

"For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a programme of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion.

"My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together."

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, leader of the Anglican church, wished the former prime minister well in his spiritual journey.

He said: "Tony Blair has my prayers and good wishes as he takes this step in his Christian pilgrimage."

Northern Ireland

Downing Street confirmed the prime minister had converted, but said it was a private matter and it would not comment further.

 But the former Conservative government minister, Ann Widdicombe, who became a Catholic in 1993, told the BBC Mr Blair’s move raised some questions.

"If you look at Tony Blair’s voting record in the House of Commons, he’s gone against Church teaching on more than one occasion. On things, for example, like abortion," she said.

"My question would be, ‘has he changed his mind on that?’"

But Mr Blair’s biographer, Anthony Seldon, said the former prime minister’s faith had always been a major influence on his politics.

Mr Seldon said: "He’s a profoundly religious figure. Religion brought him into politics in the first place, not reading Labour Party history.

"Catholicism has been the religion of his wife – Cherie Blair has been incredibly important to him throughout his political life, encouraging him to go into politics and adopting many of his positions, so I think it was the obvious part of the Christian faith for him to come into."

Northern Ireland

There has never been a Roman Catholic prime minister of Britain, although there is no constitutional barrier to such a move.

However, it had in the past been suggested that Mr Blair would wait until after leaving office, to avoid possible clashes such as over his role in appointing Church of England bishops.

Catherine Pepinster, editor of Catholic magazine The Tablet, said the news was not quite the same as if Mr Blair had changed Churches while still prime minister.

"I understand that one of the issues he was concerned with, because he was so closely involved in negotiations over peace in Northern Ireland, that perhaps some people there might have been uncomfortable with the prime minister converting to Catholicism at such a time.

"This situation is different. Although he remains a public figure now, and clearly has a role to play in the Middle East, it isn’t perhaps quite the same."

‘Nutter’ fear

Mr Blair’s ex-spokesman, Alastair Campbell, once famously told reporters "We don’t do God," but has since said that his former boss "does do God in quite a big way".

Mr Blair last year told ITV1 chat show host Michael Parkinson he had prayed while deciding whether to send troops into Iraq.

"In the end, there is a judgement that, I think if you have faith about these things, you realise that judgement is made by other people… and if you believe in God, it’s made by God as well," he said.

And earlier this year, he told the BBC that he had avoided talking about his religious views while in office for fear of being labelled "a nutter".

The news of his conversion comes as a document showed Mr Blair had raised "concern" over ongoing business negotiations in a letter about an investigation into a Saudi arms deal.

Days later the probe was dropped, and Mr Blair said the decision to stop it was taken because of national security, and was not linked to commercial interests.

This raises some interesting questions which I am sure our friends in the UK can clarify in charity.

I would very much like to hear Card. Murphy O’Conner talk about the "formation programme" for Mr. Blair and if they discussed issues such as how public figures need to be consistent with Catholic doctrine.

For example, since Mr. Blair publicly held positions on certain issues which were contrary to Catholic doctrine, how does his public stance square with his former reception into the Church?

I am not interested in blasting Mr. Blair.  I will probably delete comments which simply rain vituperation on him or anyone else in this matter.   I am interested in the larger issue, which affect American (and not only American) politics as well.

We all know that in the USA for the electoral campaigns there are difficulties when self-proclaimed Catholic politicians support and promote things contrary to Catholic doctrine, such as abortion.   Since they are public figures, taking a public stand, it seems right that they should make a public statement to correct their errors before reception of Holy Communion, lest there be scandal among God’s people.  Archbp. Burke has spoken, written, and acted on this matter.

This should also apply to politicians in other countries.  Remember that when the Holy Father flew to Brasil for the meeting of CELAM, he was asked on the airplane by an Italian journalist about the situation in Mexico where Catholic politicians had removed sanctions from those who procure abortions. 

This is a world wide issue.

At the same time, none of us are finished products yet.  I suspect Mr. Blair, or other politicians, will not change positions if they are constantly blasted with nastiness.  Persuasion is needed.  In no way does this condone public denial of Catholic doctrine.  I am trying to underscore the fallen dimension of our human experience. 

Thus, I am glad that Mr. Blair desired closer unity with the Catholic Church and acted on it.  However, I would like some clarifications.

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35 Responses to Former P.M. Tony Blair becomes Catholic

  1. If Tony Blair had converted while he was in office, it would have been a monumental act. That said, I’m glad he’s come home and I welcome him into Holy Mother Church. I will pray for him.

    I would raise the same questions you did, Father, regarding ANY faith formation for ANYONE. Sure, this is a big “showcase win” for our side but I would not expect Tony Blair to be formed any differently then Robert Hammersmith from Liverpool, factory worker, or Joe Smith, Councilman, from Blaine, Minnesota.

    We should all be getting the same messages during faith formation. One of my ongoing gripes is: we aren’t. Catacheses is still weak in many areas.

    Is it possible to hold people back from full reception into the Church until the priest administering those Sacraments is sure the catachumen has accepted all of it? I know that does not happen too often. Maybe it should. I have no doubt the priests administering the Sacrament of Confirmation to me last Spring would have held me back if they thought I was not completely on board or ready at that time. Actually, I held myself back for a year because I knew I was not ready yet. Perhaps, Mr. Blair did too and we should give him the benefit of the doubt until we see what he does/says going forward.

  2. Habemus Papam says:

    Blair took the UK into a unjust war. Surely this is as important as his support for abortion.

  3. Fr. Christopher says:

    I assume Mr. Blair, after reciting the Creed, would have added the profession of faith required by those Christians who enter the Catholic Church: ” I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” To my mind – such is a public profession of what one now believes and cancels out one’s previous public statements which may have been contrary to the faith. I would hope the profession of faith was explained to Mr. Blair and I would think Mr. Blair would have inquired as to its meaning. Unless Mr Blair expresses something contrary – I take it he truly is in full communion with the Church. God bless him.

  4. Ted says:

    Indeed: Mr. Blair’s seemingly un-Catholic positions while Prime Minister must be officially clarified in a hurry. Hiding behind the wall of “private matters” only invites the accusation of scandal, although it would have been particularly scandalous had he converted while still Prime Minister and holding to those positions. Catholic Faith should never be a private matter in the first place.

  5. Louis E. says:

    Mr. Blair was insincere enough as an Anglican to actively cooperate in the ostensible instruction of his children as Catholics(along with his “cradle Catholic” wife who represented homosexual activists in European Court getting a ruling against responsible restriction on homosexual activity as “discriminatory”).
    I think it was covered here not long ago that his government virtually forced the Catholic Church in Britain to discontinue adoption services because it would not be allowed to “discriminate” against same-sex couples.
    Until the Blairs understand that belonging to a religion involves acting in accordance with its teachings,not using the powers of the state to prevent people from doing so,I don’t think that any religion would be proud to call them “members”.

  6. Joseph says:

    Habemus: The difference between abortion and the war is that the Church teaches definitively that all procured abortion is murder, but cannot teach that some particular war is unjust. That is a prudential judgment that Mr. Blair, as a public official, had the proper authority to make, and sufficient grounds to at least sustain the argument that the war satisfied the criteria of a just war. I am a priest, and I agree with Bush’s and Blair’s judgment on the matter, and I am at liberty to do so, despite the fact that the Pope held a different opinion.

  7. Patrick Rothwell says:

    ” I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

    Yet, is it REALLY true that the necessity of legislators to vote against criminalization of some later-term abortions in each and every instance is a dogman that the Catholic Church believes to be divinely revealed or a deposit of the faith? I don’t think that’s true. On the other hand, it is possible that a politician who openly espouses in a *legal* or * moral right to an abortion has effectively contradicted divinely revealed doctrine – but did Tony Blair actually do this?

    Since we don’t have public penance anymore, I don’t think he is required to manifest his conscience to us. Few of us would have ever entered the Church if we were forced to face interrogation at every turn by self-appointed inquisitors and busybody defenders of the magisterium about why we did X at such and such time and whether we are truly trustworthy (in their minds) on X now. On the other hand, he was a Prime Minister and it would be enlightening to know why he helped squash pro-life legislation when he was in a position to be more helpful.

    In any event, I’m glad that he’s joined the Church, and I hope that he won’t use his high public profile to undermine it from here on out.

  8. englishcatholic says:

    Here what the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has to say:

    “During his premiership, Tony Blair became one of the world’s most significant architects of the culture of death – promoting abortion, experiments on human embryos, including on cloned human embryos, and euthanasia by neglect. SPUC is writing to Tony Blair to ask him whether he has repented of the anti-life positions he has so openly advocated throughout his political career”.
    ___________

    Mr. Blair now needs our earnest prayers that he will have a full conversion and spend the rest of his life fighting his own legacy.

    He supported homosexual civil partnerships as well as the things SPUC outlined. Supposedly he skipped with joy over their legalisation which his government was responsible for.

    We need to pray for him, and for the Cardinal, and that we get a courageous man appointed as his successor at Westminster. We need another Wiseman or a Manning. Please, Holy Father, please.

  9. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    In learning how not just REact to someone’s (past?) failings, that is, in learning how to ACT out of the Living Truth of Charity that our Lord is lifting us into… it is always good to remember that each one of us is redeemed (also saved?) from participating in the hell that was unleashed on Calvary, for if we were without our Lord’s grace, and given the circumstances, we would, each one of us, be right there instantaneously on Calvary with all of the hatred, violence, torture and death for our Lord. On our own, NONE of us are any better than any one else. There but for the grace of God… This truth should just about crush us to death.

    Having said that, and leaving aside non-public conscience, the fact of going hugely public in the wrong direction demands a hugely public reparation. There are precedents, in England… and Canon Law demands this in certain public circumstances…

    Anyone with a JCD?

  10. Mark says:

    Whilst Mr Blair himself has said that talking about religion in the public life leads to everyone branding you “nuts”, I pray that the (so far positive) media coverage of his conversion sees the acceptability of religion restored in British public life. Britain is fast becoming the most secular country I can think of!

  11. Jim says:

    All orthodox Catholics should be overjoyed at Mr. Blair’s conversion notwithstanding any prior public positions on abortion and the like. We must not be blind to works of grace among us.

  12. Mark says:

    P.S. As someone who has converted to Catholicism, I can appreciate Mr Blair saying it is a private matter. I don’t consider he is hiding behind that because I quite appreciate that right now may not necessary be the time for a public repudiation of his former positions.

    Of course, the Canon Law perspective would be interesting…but at the same time, quite frankly, is a man’s faith any of our business.

  13. “There are better things in life to be make the breath used unto”, he has served the human mankind and will cherish to leave no stones unturned. He had the sense of responsibility understanding the ganesha of life an uter balance of ethos.

  14. danphunter1 says:

    I guess Christ was a “nutter”, because all He ever did was to talk about religion in the public square, according to those British “our stuff don’t stink” types.
    Let us pray that those who catechized the Prime Minister are in keeping with the Magisterial Teaching of Holy Church, and Mr. Blair fulfills his confirmation promise to uphold the Truth at all times.
    Welcome home Mr Blair.
    Deo Gratias1

  15. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Public objective acts providing scandal need public repentance. No one is unduely interested in anyone’s private perspective. Without going down old rabbit holes, consider this:

    In this case, public repentance may have already been done, with a reprimand being received (presumably humbly) from none other than Benedict XVI. If memory serves me well, Blair’s visit to the Holy Father was reported by the Vatican with strong hints of reprimand being offered by the Pontiff. Again, if memory serves me well, there was no other visit of a statesman that received such a strong rebuff in living memory, that is, other than the visit of Robert Gabriel Mugabe. After Mugabe visited the Holy Father, he was subjected to what can only be called a stomping on by Vatican Television, an inquisition which displayed and reprimanded his missteps. If anyone is good at searching for what was said about Blair, this may be enough of a public undoing of scandal if, in fact, Blair has not made the very same missteps since then.

    A by-the-way to danphunter1… always good to see your enthusiasm.

  16. Vincenzo says:

    Fr Renzo di Lorenzo wrote:

    “In this case, public repentance may have already been done, with a reprimand being received (presumably humbly) from none other than Benedict XVI. If memory serves me well, Blair’s visit to the Holy Father was reported by the Vatican with strong hints of reprimand being offered by the Pontiff. Again, if memory serves me well, there was no other visit of a statesman that received such a strong rebuff in living memory, that is, other than the visit of Robert Gabriel Mugabe.”

    Link:

    Pope has “frank” conversation with Tony Blair

    Vatican, Jun. 25, 2007 (CWNews.com) – During a June 23 audience with outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Pope Benedict XVI (bio – news) had some candid criticism of the British leader’s term in office.

    After the Pope’s meeting with Blair– who was accompanied to the Vatican by his wife Cherie and by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster– the Vatican press office indicated that the conversation had included a “frank discussion of the international situation, including certain particularly delicate questions such as the conflict in the Middle East and the future of the European Union in the wake of the Brussels summit.” London media reports indicated that the Pope had been critical of the British leader’s stands on the war in Iraq, stem-cell research, and legal recognition of same-sex unions.

    The indications of an unusually blunt conversation between the Pope and the Prime Minister took on special interest in light of the persistent speculation that Blair plans to enter the Catholic Church after resigning his government leadership post…

  17. BobP says:

    I wonder what he thinks of the Traditional Latin Mass.

  18. Nick says:

    Don’t question the workings of the Holy Spirit. In recent years many prominent people have either returned, or converted. Last year when internet rumors about Blair’s possible conversion circulated, the general consensus was “just a rumor, why would he give up everything just to join a Church?” Well he did.

    (Maybe some of our bishops will be next…)

  19. woodyjones says:

    Let him be, for goodness’ sake, as we would say down here in Texas. To impose heavy burdens on someone coming over the Tiber immediately can be quite counterproductive. I am sure that in time he will have a proper understanding of things and reach the right conclusions, but as we converst know, you don’t have to know everything before you convert.

  20. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Thanks Vincenzo. You’re amazing.

    It’s great to have a Holy Father who — despite what soft opinions of the modern West might want — acts like a Father, reprimanding and instructing on so many topics, all at once. I rejoice in having a Holy Father who does not underestimate the moral and religious capacity of all his children, whatever the age! Also, I must presume that Blair is just as thankful for this fatherliness of the Holy Father. Without it, Blair would risk something horrific, objectively speaking, of course. If Blair did humbly receive the comments of His Holiness, then I would guess that Blair would despise some of the opinions voiced above that the reprimand that the Holy Father gave him was out of line. “Why do you think that?” he might ask… “Do you want me to risk going to hell?”

    Go Pope Benedict!!! You do what you need to do. Thanks.

  21. Sean says:

    Blairs’s standing with God is none of my business but if I hear him holding forth on abortion, civil unions and the like as if nothing has changed then I will expect denial of communion and excommunication. Very publicly.

  22. James A says:

    This is a moment of great joy in the life of Mr. Blair and the Church – I will remember him in my prayers and would encourage others to do so.

  23. Derek James says:

    Fathers,
    Don’t public sins need public restitution?

  24. deegee says:

    The Roman Catholic Church is a player in Israel, Palestine and the Middle East in general. Doesn’t this conversion cast some doubt on Tony Blair’s suitability to be envoy of the Quartet? Perhaps it should now be envoy of the Quintet?

  25. Habemus Papam says:

    Joseph: if a particular war fails to meet the criteria for a just war it cannot de left to the discretion of a public official. Mr. Blair may well, in concience have believed the Iraq war to be “just” but this does not in itself make it square with Church teaching. If the criteria are not objectively true, why have them in the first place?

  26. Habemus Papam says:

    To follow up on my previous comment; off the top of my head the criteria for a just war involve self-defense. The enemy must obviously threaten aggresion. Also, and critically, the evil involved in going to war must be commensurate to the evil of the enemy; it would be unjust to use a greater force to eliminate a lesser force. And (I think this is the Popes particular point) the Good which results for the victor must be demonstrable. In other words the situation in Iraq would have to be measurable better after the war.

  27. Dominic says:

    Any genuine conversion to the Catholic Church is always to be welcomed, no matter who the person is and what his or her past has been. What is troubling about Tony Blair’s reception into the Catholic Church is that there is a real doubt as to whether he has in fact “converted” or whether he has merely changed religious affiliation.

    Doubts about his ‘conversion’ have not only dominated the Catholic blogosphere but have been prominent in the BBC and other media. Concerns about this must have been known to Cardinal Murphy O’Connor and those close to him for many weeks and months. Tony Blair is not a private citizen, and as a Member of Parliament and Prime Minister he has been responsible for many attrocities.

    If Tony Blair were genuinely contrite for the anti-Catholic policies he supported AND PROMOTED while in office, he should expressed his regret and remorse in the weeks prior to being received into the Church – not because he was obliged to do so, but because he truly recognised the gravity of his errors. It is not too late for him to do so now. But if there is no public statement by him the ongoing doubts will remain. And, tragically, this will be a cause of scandal. It already is.

  28. Michael says:

    I welcome his conversion. If the Cardinal is happy to welcome him, then so am I. We should also remember that the Catholic Church as a whole is on display in how they welcome newcomers.

  29. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Derek James wrote:

    Fathers, don't public sins need public restitution?

    We all need to re-read the research of Vincenzo above.

    A universally public reprimand was given by the Pope.

    I would add here that the presumption that Blair received this with all humility, as a restitution, has the point in its favor that the Secretariat of State would hardly let such a story out without the express permission of the person involved. If Blair had declined, it would have meant that he wouldn’t be received into the Catholic faith.

    This action of our Holy Father will go down as a shining moment in his pontificate and, if I may make this conjecture, in the history of the Papacy dealing with politicians of whatever stripe. Why not see this as part of the Marshall Plan of the Supreme Pontiff, as it is called?

  30. Hmmmm says:

    Fr Renzo,

    We know for absolutely certain that for his whole premiership and up until a few months ago Tony Blair not only supported grave sins such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research and homosexuality… Not only this he actively fought the Church over adoption agencies and publically criticised the Church’s teaching on contraception. He was at this time known to be interested in becoming Catholic. His wife is also a known dissenter.

    He may have changed all these opinions in the last few weeks. I hope so.

    However we have a right to know. After all the terrible, evil, things he has done he has a duty to publically acknowledge them. We are talking about gravely immoral legislation passed by his government VERY RECENTLY. We are talking about assaults on human life and dignity.

    I sincerly hope Mr Blair’s conversion is genuine but we really cannot be expected to take such a naive approach as you suggest.

  31. PMcGrath says:

    Of course we should welcome him with open arms.

    At the same time, someone should get out in front of him at his next press conference and ask, \”Before you became Catholic, you voted to promote baby-killing and buggery. Now that you\’ve become Catholic, will you be taking equally public steps against baby-killing and buggery, for example, by publicly renouncing your earlier votes?\”

    The guy\’s been through Question Time at the dispatch box, he can handle it.

  32. Anonymous says:

    As was said in the original post, there is a worldwide problem – but I would say that is with the attitude toward the faith. England, and much of Europe, indeed, the whole world (and at many times, not just ours), could largely be typified by (at best) a sentimentalist notion of Catholicism. The idea of virtue and sanctification of souls is almost everywhere nearly imperceptible. Bible history will say the same – never could man believe what God has done, never will man believe what is to come. \”Can God spread a table in the desert? … Can he supply meat for his people?\” \”Is anything too hard for the LORD? … Has the hand of the LORD grown short?\” And yet \”Who has believed our report?\” for \”many even of the rulers believed in Him … but they loved the praise of men more than that which comes from God.\”

  33. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    There was once a heresy, never quite extirpated, which held throughout the early centuries and right through the Inquisition that Rome is too lenient with returning heretics and sinners.

    Since a reprimand was given by the Supreme Pontiff (who is wise) and was received by Blair — and this on a world stage — the presumption of repentance is there for all. It is not naive to think that this sends a huge message to all other politicians in the world, especially those who are already Catholic.

    Actually, it was enough for Blair to make the profession of faith and to change his behavior, for that says it all. The Canon Law I mentioned further above would actually not cover this particular case. Anyway, to submit to the wonderful, medicinal reprimand of the Holy Father; this is most excellent, indeed. Of course, it would REALLY BE GOOD if Blair also made a public statement, as many have made after a life of anti-Catholic, anti-life activity. For instance, Saint Paul confesses again and again. But that is a separate issue. Make distinctions.

    Those who go after Blair because of his wife, well, really, WHAT A RABBIT HOLE! That takes the heresy mentioned above into a whole other universe of, well, heresy.

    Yes, what Blair has done in the past is horrific. But is that evil more powerful than our Lord’s mercy? I think not. That heresy would dig any rabbit holes straight down to… (you can finish the sentence, if you like). For a similar, you fill in the rest presentation, see Lk 15,33). Oh, sorry, that’s the verse, you have to fill in.

  34. Victor says:

    Mr Blair was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, not the dictator. He had to deal with his Labour Party which is, it seems, extremely anti-religious. Parliament majorities are not made by goodwill alone, and who knows how many worse things he prevented.
    One might also remember that MP Ann Widdicombe, while a convert to Catholicism, is also a Tory politician and might have an ulterior motive when chastising Mr Blair.
    Also, please remember that nobody receives baptism or converts to Catholicism because he is a saint, but in order to become a saint. I know that since my teenager years, I have come embrace many things I never thought I could accept.
    Don’t be the older brother, being angry and grumpy, but be happy with your brother, for he was lost and has been found again. I’m sure that, come time, Mr Blair will speak out about his beliefs. Until then, give him the benefit of the doubt!

  35. Habemus Papam says:

    When when this public reprimand given to Blair by the Pope? I’ve only seen footage of them shaking hands and looking uncomfortable in each others company.