Former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, who died today, was not a Catholic, and, according to those closest to her, never had any wish to cross the Tiber.
But she was well known for having friendly relations with Blessed John Paul II, whom she greatly admired. She laid flowers at his tomb on a visit to the Vatican in 2009 and was overheard remarking that if weren’t for the great Polish Pope, Soviet Communism wouldn’t have fallen.
Moreover, Baroness Thatcher's political principles were largely formed by her Christian faith, and in particular her Methodist upbringing.
In an interview with the Register a couple of years ago, John O’Sullivan, a close Catholic friend and former advisor to the late prime minister, explained what her faith meant to her. One of her best characteristics, he said, was her sense of hope:
“She was, in a sense, optimistic. But I prefer the word 'hope,' because optimism is a disposition and very often a silly and foolish one. But Mrs. Thatcher was somebody who recognized that an element in hope is effort. You don’t just hope something’s going to happen; you embark on projects in a hopeful way. Of course, you rely on the grace of God, but, anyway, you have to do something, and I think all three of them [Reagan, John Paul II and Thatcher] were in that frame of mind. You could accomplish great things, with the help of God, but also you have to put your back into it.”
The full interview can be read here.
In his tribute to Baroness Thatcher today, pro-life campaigner Lord David Alton of Liverpool recalled how he once arranged a private meeting between the former prime minister and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was visiting London.
"Mother Teresa told me afterwards that when she had challenged the Prime Minister about the number of people sleeping rough on the streets and the number of unborn children aborted each day in the U.K., in response, Margaret Thatcher gave her a short speech on Britain's welfare provisions and social security. Mother Teresa simply responded by asking, "But do you have love?"
"Notwithstanding this, the two women clearly liked and understood one another very well," Lord Alton added.
He said he and Margaret Thatcher disagreed about the need to reform the abortion laws (Thatcher was, like most of Britain's politicians, pro-abortion). But he said he was "particularly pleased" when she opposed the further destruction of human embryos and the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos. "She told me she saw no scientific reasons for such experiments," he recalled.
Margaret Thatcher, he said, had some "remarkable achievements" and "always described herself as a conviction politician."
"No one was ever in any doubt about what she believed and why," he noted. "It is worth contrasting this with the political ambiguities and political posturing which seems to characterise so much of today's politics, too often seeking the main chance and the appeasement of special-interest groups. May she rest in peace."
The Vatican this evening released the following statement on the death of Baroness Thatcher:
The Right Honourable David Cameron, MP
The Prime Minister
His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. He recalls with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations. Entrusting her soul to the mercy of God, and assuring her family and the British people of a remembrance in his prayers, the Holy Father invokes upon all whose lives she touched God’s abundant blessings.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State
In a speech to the Church of Scotland, Margaret Thatcher spoke eloquently about Christianity and politics, offering insights and reflections every bit as relevant to today's politics as they were then. Here are some excerpts:
“I think back to many discussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither. And they will not come again unless you nurture the roots.”
“We must not profess the Christian faith and go to church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behavior, but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ.”
“Any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm.”
“The basic ties of the family [are] at the heart of our society and are the very nursery of civic virtue. And it is on the family that we in government build our own policies for welfare, education and care.”
“Intervention by the state must never become so great that it effectively removes personal responsibility. The same applies to taxation; for while you and I would work extremely hard, whatever the circumstances, there are undoubtedly some who would not unless the incentive was there. And we need their efforts, too.”
“There is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women in democratic societies cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves. Political structures, state institutions, collective ideals — these are not enough. We Parliamentarians can legislate for the rule of law. You, the Church, can teach the life of faith.”
Of course, she had no time for socialism, which she saw, among other things, as taking away individual personal responsibility given by God.
In her last speech in the House of Commons in 1990, she memorably took the ideology to task.