Giving Tony Blair a fair go over his speech at Westminster Cathedral

There are some out there who obviously have it in for Tony Blair. Fair enough. He was a political leader, and you are allowed to have it in for political leaders. Look how many people had it in for (and still do have it in for) our own Little Johnny Howard.

But some Catholic bloggers and commentators are still very hesitant to give Blair “a fair go” even though he has a whole new identity as an private citizen and as a Catholic to that which he had as a politician and a protestant. One example is Fr Tim at the Hermeneutic of Continuity) in reference to a recent and significant speech Tony Blair made in Westminster Cathedral as part of the “Cardinal’s Lectures” last Thursday.

As a political leader and before he entered the Catholic Church he and his government did things and supported things that Catholics would have a right and duty to question. There was probably a large dose of “Real Politik” about all that. I find his explanation of that famous comment by his press secretary (“We don’t do God”) most interesting, and if you are looking for an explanation of why he did what he did when he was Prime Minister, you could probably find it there as clearly as anywhere.

We need to remember too that our brother in Christ, Tony, has chosen to enter the Catholic Church. That he chose to take that action only last December, and not years ago when he first married his Catholic wife, is an indication that his conversion is an honest one, and not just done for convenience. One presumes then that over the years he has gone through some process of development. One also needs to remember that he retired from his office of Prime Minister–he wasn’t voted out. The reasons for his retirement may have been many, but at least one of them appears to have been so that he could enter the Catholic Church without creating a legal furore in England.

So I think we should give the bloke a fair go, as we say in this country.

And (apart from his citation of Karen Armstrong), I believe that he has put it about as clearly and as straight as he possibly could have done in his speech. You will find little that he said that was not completely in line with documents such as Nostra Aetate, “Dialogue and Mission”, “Dialogue and Proclamation”, or even the recent CDF statement on Evangelisation.

Here are some snippets:

One of the oddest questions I get asked in interviews (and I get asked a lot of odd questions) is: is faith important to your politics? It’s like asking someone whether their health is important to them or their family. If you are someone ‘of faith’ it is the focal point of belief in your life. There is no conceivable way that it wouldn’t affect your politics.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that it is extreme to believe your religious faith is the only true faith. Most people of faith do that. It doesn’t stop them respecting those of a different faith or indeed of no faith. We should respect humanists too and celebrate the good actions they do. Faith is problematic when it becomes a way of denigrating those who do not share it, as somehow lesser human beings. Faith as a means of exclusion.

Reading the Dawkins book – The God Delusion – I am struck by how much the militant secularist and the religious extremist need each other. The God Delusion is a brilliant polemic but rests entirely – as does the more reasonable The Blind Watchmaker – on the view that those who believe in God believe in Him as a means of exclusion, as a frightening, irrational piece of superstition and mumbo-jumbo which then justifies the unjustifiable.

I could quote many other fine passages of his speech.

He wasn’t preaching a sermon–he was speaking to all people of goodwill (“people who have religious faith and those who have none”)–so you can’t expect him to have used “church speak”. There is a certain “diplomacy” that is appropriate for us to adopt as Christians in the public square. It has nothing to do with going “soft” or “flakey” and everything to do with being as “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”, to quote Someone. In other words, if this was a “political” speech, it was political in that Blair was using every trick in the political manual to persuade as many of those who listened to him as possible.

And what he is trying to persuade us to do is so very important. Like it or not, the people’s of the world are divided by religion as much as by race or nation. I hope that you, like me, believe that the evangelising mission of the Church is our essential Christian calling. Learning the skills to co-exist in harmony with those of other religions (and none) is no enemy to this evangelising mission. In fact, I would say, the evangelising mission will not progress without it. The only way you can convert someone with whom you live in enmity is by force, and to seek conversions by such means is completely against God’s will.

So let’s give Brother Tony a fair go. I think his speech was a fine example of the way in which this new convert intends to live out his Catholic apostolate.

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8 Responses to Giving Tony Blair a fair go over his speech at Westminster Cathedral

  1. Fr Tim Finigan says:

    Tony Blair voted for abortion up to birth, his government introduced embryo experimentation which he fully supported. He supports the leading gay lobbying group Stonewall and introduced civil partnerships in England. If he had genuinely rejected these positions to become a Catholic, I would heartily agree with you. But there is a deafening silence on all these issues and we can only conclude that he continues to espouse these anti-life and anti-family views.

  2. Schütz says:

    No, Father Tim, you can only conclude–in the face of “deafening silence”–that he repented of and confessed these things before receiving the sacrament of confirmation. God knows I had quite a bit to confess at that point.

    Charity, Father, charity. If he says or stands for anything contrary to the teaching of the Church now as a Catholic, then let the hammer of your judgement fall with the greatest severity.

    But I will judge him on the fruits of his current life and testimony.

    And as far as I can tell, there is nothing in this speech that is against Catholic doctrine. On the contrary, his agenda nicely covers on the secular side what Papa Benny is trying to do on the ecclesial side.

    You might like to read again his words:

    “Faith corrects, in a necessary and vital way, the tendency humankind has to relativism. It says there are absolutes – like the inalienable worth and dignity of every human being – that can never be sacrificed. It gives true moral fibre. We err, we do wrong, we sin but at least we know it and we feel the compunction to do better and the need to seek God’s forgiveness.”

    I would construe that as relevant in the charges that you bring against the man.

  3. Sharon says:

    From Fr Ray Blake’s blog

    April 4, 2008 ( – Stonewall, England’s largest and most well-known homosexual activist organization, held its annual fundraising dinner last night, raising over £300,000. A sizeable chunk of the funds raised came in thanks to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair – the same Tony Blair who was received into the Catholic Church only a few months ago by top English prelate Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor. [Mr Blair couldn’t attend the dinner because he was speaking at Westminister Cathedral on the same night]

    The opportunity to have tea with Tony Blair secured a bid of $40,000 in an auction held at the dinner. Incidentally Blair was the keynote speaker at last year’s Stonewall fundraiser. During his speech Blair thanked the gathered attendees for their help in passing his legislation to permit homosexual civil unions. Blair said that of all the pro-homosexual legislation passed in recent years, the civil partnership law gave him more than just pride, “it actually brought real joy.” The first same-sex civil union caused him to give “a little sort of skip,” he said, it was “just so alive, and I was so struck by it.”

  4. Schütz says:

    Righto. Fair enough. And we would have had good cause to criticise him if he had gone to this dinner this year. But he didn’t, because he had a “prior engagement”. Always the politician, of course.

    But the point is that whatever he did before he entered into the Church (and, as I said, he presumably confessed all his past mortal sins at his first confession and received absolution for them) must not be used now to judge his motives or his heart.

    I know it would make everyone happier if he came out and publically renounced his former actions and positions, but there is something of the “Oprah” mentality in us for even desiring such public breast-beating.

    Let’s just let him get on with the job, and if he is doing a good job, and upholding the Church and the Faith in his public life, that’s all we can reasonably expect of him.

  5. Sharon says:

    And we would have had good cause to criticise him if he had gone to this dinner this year. But he didn’t, because he had a “prior engagement”.

    1. The 2008 dinner occurred after Blair was received into the Catholic Church.

    2. He consented to having tea with the highest bidder at the 2008 dinner auction which raised 40thousand pounds for the homosexual activist organisation.

    I don’t know about you David but I certainly wouldn’t let myself be a “prize” for an organisation whose aims I didn’t support and which were against the teachings of the Church of which I had recently become a member.

  6. Past Elder says:

    The maxim is “silence implies consent”.

  7. Fr Tim Finigan says:

    David, it is not a case of “bringing charges” against Blair but of observing how he has voted – a matter of public record. He has now openly supported the leading gay lobbying group. Frankly nobody in Britain is the least bit surprised by this because nobody, whether they support Blair or oppose him on moral issues, believes for a moment that he has changed any of his views in these areas.

    If he votes in favour of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, will that convince you?

  8. Schütz says:

    Answer: Yes. At least that is something to base a criticism on.

    Question: Is he still in parliament that he can vote? I thought he was reduced to the level of a private citizen. Or has he been “kicked upstairs” to “the other place”?

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