Friday, January 04, 2008

It's official: Tony Blair is Catholic

I blogged on this before when rumours were first circulating, but now it's official:

Tony Blair Converts to Catholicism
By Randy Sly12/24/2007
Catholic Online

In a private Mass at his residence chapel on Friday evening, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster received former Prime Minister Tony Blair into the Roman Catholic Church. Blair had been a member of the Anglican Church, however his wife and four children were all Catholic. "It can be confirmed that Tony Blair has been received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.” This was the official statement from Church officials, who went on to quote the Cardinal. “I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church. For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a program of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion. “My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together." Through his role as a special Middle East peace envoy, Blair had met privately with Pope Benedict last June and many thought, at that time, that Blair would convert. Blair went through a process of spiritual formation under the leadership of Father Mark O’toole, private secretary to the Cardinal. A spokesman for the Vatican, Federico Lombardi, stated that the Catholic church in Rome shared the same “satisfaction” as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor has expressed concerning Blair’s decision. "The choice of joining the Catholic Church made by such an authoritative personality can only arouse joy and respect." According to Anthony Seldon, the former prime minister’s biographer, Blair’s faith had always played a significant role in his politics. "He's a profoundly religious figure. Religion brought him into politics in the first place, not reading Labor Party history.” Seldon went on to say, "Catholicism has been the religion of his wife - Cherie Blair has been incredibly important to him throughout his political life, encouraging him to go into politics and adopting many of his positions, so I think it was the obvious part of the Christian faith for him to come into." Everyone did not share this optimistic perspective. Ex-Tory minister Ann Widdecombe, who converted to Catholicism in 1993, stated that Mr. Blair's voting record as an MP had often "gone against church teaching". In an interview with the BBC, Widdencombe said that Mr Blair's move raised some questions. "If you look at Tony Blair's voting record in the House of Commons, he's gone against Church teaching on more than one occasion. On things, for example, like abortion," she said. "My question would be, 'has he changed his mind on that?'" Former Anglicans, who had previously converted, said they were pleased with Blair’s decision. Some wondered, however, whether his decision would have been much more significant had it taken place while he was still prime minister, especially with respect to Northern Ireland. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who leads the Anglican Communion worldwide, commended Blair on his spiritual journey. "Tony Blair has my prayers and good wishes as he takes this step in his Christian pilgrimage." According to the last census in 2005, 72% of United Kingdom declared they were Christians. Of that number, over 27% claim they are Anglicans and 5.5% say they are Catholic. A very small portion of that number, however, actually attends worship on a regular basis. In regular Sunday attendance, Anglicans and Catholics are almost equal in number with 875,000 attending a Catholic Mass and 867,000 present in Anglican parishes.