What we still don’t know about Blair’s conversion
Does the public have the right to know the reasons why Tony Blair converted to Roman Catholicism just before Christmas? I mean the real reasons — what does the Catholic Church give him in terms of spirituality, theology or tradition that the Church of England did not? The initial news stories and follow-up articles over the holidays repeated the known circumstantial evidence, such as the fact his wife and children are Catholic and he has attended Catholic mass for years. Many took a political angle, noting that he waited until he had left office. Some accused him of hypocrisy for doing so despite supporting policies the Vatican opposes. But they didn’t give the real reasons.
The articles didn’t report Blair’s innermost convictions because he hasn’t revealed them. And he may never do so. There is so much public use and misuse of faith in politics that he may have decided he did not want his beliefs torn apart by his critics or the media, so he waited until they could no longer argue the prime minister’s faith was a matter of public interest. Journalists regret this, because we always want to know more, but fair-minded people can respect it.
I mention this because the latest edition of the U.S. Jesuit magazine America has the most informative article on Blair’s conversion that I’ve seen. In “From Thames to Tiber,” Austen Ivereigh, a former adviser to London Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O’Connor, tells us that “Blair’s background is in liberal Anglo-Catholicism; his favorite theologians are Leonardo Boff and Hans Küng, not Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. He belongs to an ecclesial tradition in which the gate is wide, and bridges more important than borders.” He says Blair was attracted by “the Church’s vast international reach, its commitment to the poor, its capacity for mobilisation against injustice and its courage to stand firm on unpopular issues.” That goes a lot further in locating his faith.
On Catholics in politics, Ivereigh said: “It is one thing is to hold Catholics in public life to account: to question how Judge Antonin Scalia can be in favour of the death penalty, or John Kerry of abortion. But it is another to call them hypocrites, to pretend to know what choices faced them, and why they took the decisions they did. Politicians are not lackeys; they must govern in favour of the common good in a pluralist society. If a Catholic can only serve a government whose every act chimes with his conscience and with church teaching, he cannot be a politician.”
Do you think Tony Blair has a duty to tell why he converted? And are Catholic politicians held to more demanding standards than others? Is that more hypocritical than the hypocrisy they’re accused of?