LONDON — Britain’s former prime minister, Tony Blair, was formally received into the Catholic Church just before Christmas — after months of speculation on the subject.
What happens now? Blair had a strong pro-abortion voting record in the House of Commons and was also responsible for introducing civil unions — effectively homosexual “marriage” — into British law. He famously said he had “given a little skip of joy” when marriage was redefined in Britain.
Blair also forced all adoption agencies to give children to homosexual couples — a move that almost certainly means that Catholic adoption agencies in Britain will have to close. They were given two years to comply with the law, and are still consulting with legal experts to see if there is any way in which they can still maintain their services.
The matter brought a direct clash between Blair’s government and the country’s Catholic bishops.
A request for a comment from Blair’s office had not received a response at press time.
Catholic activists had mixed reactions to the news, but most expressed optimism.
“Just as St. Paul was persecuting Christians before his conversion, so Tony Blair has been persecuting the unborn,” said John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, Britain’s leading pro-life organization. “He promoted abortion not only in the United Kingdom but all over the world.
“We now want to know whether he now thinks that was wrong, and that in his new public role he will show evidence of his conversion and cease this persecution.”
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children is writing to Blair asking for clarification about his commitment to the Church’s teaching that aborting babies is wrong.
Adrian Thacker, chairman of the Catholic Union, was conciliatory.
“On the big ethical issues, Tony Blair’s voting record has often been at variance with the faith he now professes,” said the head of the organization that exists to promote the Church’s views in the public sphere.
However, he added, “For most people, ‘conversion’ is a gradual process that can take a lifetime and beyond. I am confident that the Catholic community will be welcoming enough to encourage and assist Tony Blair as he makes his own pilgrimage toward the fullness of faith.”
Abortion has been widely available in Britain since the 1967 Abortion Act, is funded by National Health Service and regarded as a normal part of health care provision. Britain also promotes abortion worldwide through its various official aid projects to poorer countries.
Blair’s wife, Cherie, is a lifelong Catholic, and their four children have all been brought up in the Catholic faith. The family attends Mass together every Sunday, and have frequently been seen at London’s Westminster Cathedral or at the local Catholic church near Chequers, the official country residence of Britain’s prime ministers.
But Mrs. Blair hosted a major fund-raising event for Planned Parenthood at 10 Downing St., the official residence of the prime minister and the family’s home while he was in office.
She launched a campaign called “Lust for Life,” which encouraged young teenagers to take packets of condoms with them to use at parties and social gatherings, and was the chief guest at a celebration to honor the Family Planning Association — the leading organization promoting of abortion in Britain.
She has also been on record as opposing the Church’s teaching on various issues, including women priests.
Blair’s conversion brought back memories of prominent Anglican conversions of the early 1990s, including that of the former Anglican Bishop of London Graham Leonard — now a monsignor — and several prominent politicians, including members of Parliament Ann Widdecombe and John Gummer.
But none of these had been involved with campaigns promoting abortion, homosexual relationships or other matters opposed to Catholic teaching.
Blair will have plenty of scope for making clear his commitment on major moral issues as he plans to continue in public life as a special envoy to the Middle East and director of an institute bringing together representatives of the world’s major religions on issues of common concern.
Joanna Bogle is based in London.