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BY Jim Cosgrove
LONDON-While an English Catholic newspaper last week reported that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has often attended Mass on his own at Westminster Cathedral in recent months, an eminent Anglican bishop wrote a long article in The Times of London counseling him against becoming a Catholic.
It is public knowledge that Blair normally attends Sunday Mass with his wife, Cherie, who is Catholic, and their three children. The Prime Minister's office last week stated that he had only attended Mass at the Cathedral alone when official engagements had prevented him from attending Mass with his family.
Over a year ago the same Catholic newspaper caused a furor when it reported that Blair- before the General election and his appointment as Prime Minister—had been receiving Holy Communion when he attended Mass with his family at their local parish church.
Before that, a political storm had ensued after the Blairs' decision to send their eldest son to a grantmaintained selective boys' school connected with London's Brompton Oratory.
Perceiving perhaps a glimmer of openness to Catholic teaching, both England's Cardinal Basil Hume and Scotland's Cardinal Thomas Winning appealed to Blair to change his stance on abortion. Blair has consistently said he is “personally against abortion” but has on every occasion voted for further liberalization of Britain's already-liberal abortion laws.
In the March 9 edition of the Times, the Anglican Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, issued a public warning to the prime minister. In a long article on the paper's “Op-Ed” page, the bishop's message to Blair was blunt: “You should not become a Catholic (or, at least, not yet.)”
The Anglican bishop's reasoning was that the Catholic Church's teaching on divorce, family matters, abortion, celibate clergy, and the refusal to ordain women were not fit views for a British prime minister to hold. On top of this, according to Bishop Nazir-Ali, was the problem of the Catholic Church's authoritarian style of leadership. The authority accorded by Catholics to papal teaching was, he wrote, “a harking back to the ultramontane days of the First Vatican Council.”
And the challenge thrown down to Blair by this Anglican bishop appointed by a previous prime minister was: “Can a modern, democratic leader really declare that he orders his spiritual life within such a dogmatic framework?”
The message was clear: the Establishment is not ready to see a Catholic prime minister. In any case, ancient laws are still in place in Britain which forbid a Catholic from holding the office of prime minister or chancellor of the exchequer. Likewise, the law still forbids the heir to the throne to marry a Catholic.