Religion and the Blairs

Tony Blair at the 2007 Al Smith Dinner in New York.
Tony Blair at the 2007 Al Smith Dinner in New York. (photo: CNS)

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Catholic faith — and that of his wife Cherie — has received a lot of media attention over the last few days.

In an interview that aired Sunday on the BBC’s “Christmas Voices” program, Blair said it was “sad” that he had to be circumspect about his religious beliefs while he was still in office.

Blair resigned as the U.K.’s political leader in June 2007 and converted to Catholicism in December 2007.

Blair suggested he might have been bolder about divulging his private religious sympathies. But, he said, “It would have caused such a palaver if I had done it while I was still in office.”

Blair contrasted the British reticence about political expressions of religious faith with the situation in the United States.

“In America, people are just more open about their religious faith,” said Blair. “Barack Obama in the election would talk about his faith and his Christian belief and people would think that’s right and proper.”

In a separate BBC interview, a former advisor to Blair said Blair regarded himself as a Catholic well before his conversion.

Lance Price, who served as a spokesman for the prime minister’s office, said that “looking back, I think in his heart he was a Roman Catholic throughout the time that he was Prime Minister.”

Blair’s wife Cherie is a cradle Catholic whose dissent from Church teachings on life issues has generated considerable criticism. Mrs. Blair acknowledged her dissent from the Church’s opposition to contraception at Dec. 13 appearance at the pontifical Angelicum university in Rome.

“I am on record as having had difficulties with accepting the current teaching on responsible parenthood,” said Mrs. Blair, during a talk on “Religion as a Force in Protecting Women’s Human Rights” at the pontifical university.

Mrs. Blair, who is a human-rights lawyer, glossed over her longstanding support for abortion lobby groups such as International Planned Parenthood Federation during her appearance at the Angelicum.

Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) joined with many other international pro-life groups in protesting the Angelicum’s decision to invite Cherie Blair to speak at the pontifical university.

In a Dec. 13 post at his personal blog, SPUC director John Smeaton said, “From the initial reports of the conference, it seems that at no point in her remarks did Mrs. Blair state an opposition to abortion, nor did she explain why she has supported the leading pro-abortion organizations IPPF, FPA UK and Human Rights Watch. Neither did she explain her specific endorsement, on her own website, of the inclusion of reproductive rights in CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women), which the CEDAW committee interprets to include abortion.”

— Tom McFeely