This past Lent, in the course of an interview with Attitude, a gay magazine, Tony Blair said that Pope Benedict XVI’s “entrenched attitude” toward homosexual behavior was less tolerant than that of many ordinary Catholics.
“There are many good and great things the Catholic Church does,” the former British prime minister and recent Catholic convert opined, “and there are many fantastic things this pope stands for, but I think what is interesting is that if you went into any Catholic church, particularly a well-attended one, on any Sunday here and did a poll of the congregation, you’d be surprised at how liberal-minded people were.”
Well, that’s certainly a relief. I was beginning to worry that Blair’s conversion would set in motion a train of events that would result in gays being burned at the stake throughout Her Britannic Majesty’s lands.
In December 2007, Tony Blair said the following, as he was received into the full communion of the Catholic Church:
“I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
Among the things the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God is the truth about the human person, which includes the truth about the sexual nature of the human person, which includes the truth that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. So what is going on here? There would seem to be only two possibilities.
The first is that Mr. Blair understood what he said during the ceremony of his reception into full communion, but did not believe the words he spoke. In other words, he made a false oath. This seems unlikely, given Mr. Blair’s public record as a man of honor who stands by his convictions, right or wrong, popular or unpopular.
The second is that Mr. Blair was woefully ill-catechized prior to his reception into the full communion of the Church. That seems more likely, and fits neatly with a related fact, namely, that Mr. Blair’s wife, Cherie, has been known to harbor dubious views about the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.
Thus the new archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, might wish to have a look into the state of catechesis in England’s premier Catholic see — not so much as a punitive matter (although someone was clearly derelict in their duty here), but as a means of seizing an opportunity to remind English Catholics that the Church’s defense of the dignity of the human person (which Mr. Blair applauds) is very much involved in the Church’s teaching on sex (which Mr. Blair deplores, or at least dislikes).
In his interview, Blair compared the situation of religious communities holding classic moral beliefs to that of a political party on the ropes: “You can either … hold onto your core vote … [saying] ‘Let’s not break out because if we break out we might lose what we’ve got, and at least we’ve got what we’ve got so let’s keep it,’ or … you say, ‘Let’s accept that the world is changing, and let us work out how we can lead that change and actually reach out.'”
Plan B, we may be sure, did not occur to Edmund Campion as he was tied to the rack during the English Reformation.
There is something terribly sad about all this. By all accounts, Tony Blair is a man with longstanding, serious religious and spiritual interests; he is also a man of obvious intelligence. Yet, judging by his Attitude interview, he is ill-informed about the nature of the Church and ignorant of the “yes” behind the Church’s “no” to the morality of homosexual acts — which is a “yes” to the good of sexual love within marriage.
And judging by a lecture Blair gave at Westminster Cathedral shortly after his conversion, he knows little of the Church’s social doctrine, preferring instead a mishmash of leftist pieties.
Tony Blair is being cheated by the Church he embraced. And the whole Church is being cheated as well, for a well-catechized Blair could be a powerful witness to Catholic truth in a moment when that truth, a deeply humanistic truth, is under fierce assault.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.