Friday, June 22, 2007

The TB Conversion Countdown?

Tomorrow morning, as noted some weeks ago, the outgoing British PM Tony Blair will have a farewell audience with Pope Benedict.

While prior British media reports that Blair -- who leaves Downing Street on Wednesday after a decade in No. 10 -- was considering entering formation for the permanent diaconate have been downplayed in recent days, the UK papers are running with an even-firmer confidence that the soon-to-be ex-premier will swim the Tiber "soon," joining his wife Cherie Booth and their four children as a Catholic.
Mr Blair, an Anglican, may even inform the Pontiff of his intentions and seek his approval at the audience, which he is due to attend with his wife Cherie, a devout Catholic, and their daughter Kathryn.

Downing Street would not confirm the intended conversion last night.

However, The Daily Telegraph understands that it is the Prime Minister's firm intention to begin formal preparations as soon as possible after the hand-over of power to Gordon Brown next Wednesday.

A source said: "It is clear to many people that this is now going to happen."...

His reluctance to convert while Prime Minister may also have been accentuated by delicate negotiations with both sides in the Northern Ireland peace process, his party's tolerance of abortion and support for gay rights as well as his personal enthusiasm for [embryonic] stem cell research, which the Catholic Church opposes.

It is likely that he will begin a private course of instruction with a spiritual director and he will be expected to be formally received into the Catholic Church at a service.

His audience with the Pope - which could be in jeopardy if the European summit overuns - will be his third visit to the Vatican in four years and reflects his growing fascination with Catholicism.

Sources said that he may revive a long-standing invitation to Pope Benedict to visit the UK. Mr Blair is also expected to discuss the Middle East situation and his growing interest in promoting understanding between faiths, which friends say will be a key part of a new foundation he plans to establish.

Church sources have been saying for some time that Mr Blair, whose four children have been brought up as Catholics, was already a Catholic in all but name as he rarely attended Anglican services except on state occasions. In the past he has attended Mass at Westminster Cathedral in London with his family and, for security reasons, in Downing Street.

He has also attended Mass regularly at Chequers and is said to attend services on his own when he is abroad....

In 1996, Cardinal Basil Hume, the late Archbishop of Westminster, wrote to him demanding that he should cease taking Communion at his wife's church in Islington.

Mr Blair made clear that he did not agree, asking in a letter to Cardinal Hume: "I wonder what Jesus would have made of it."
In a 2005 lecture on faith and human rights, Cherie Blair rapped the 16th century English state -- which, she said, executed "some 105 people... for their Catholic faith" -- as one which "claimed the right to bind the consciences of individuals in religious matters and to impose a degree of uniformity in religious practice and allegiance... which denied individuals’ fundamental rights – namely the right to life, and the right to freedom of conscience, to religious liberty and toleration."

Speaking on the role of women in the church, Booth said that, in her experience, "there is still a sense in which some in the church see women as the 'praying church' and the 'working church' but not the 'thinking church'; they are embraced as handmaidens but not as thinkers or leaders.

"Women," she added, "are still seen as progressing the ideas of the masculine other in the church rather than being acknowledged for what the 'feminine genius' can contribute in its own right to the church.

"On my recent visit to the Vatican for example," Booth noted, "I thought that there could be greater scope for active female participation in the Curia."

...and it's Benedict -- who sought Cherie out for a motu proprio private audience during her last Rome trip -- who's making exactly those inroads.

More to follow.