I was hoping for some retraction of the former Prime Minister's stance on a whole raft of issues when Cardinal Murphy O'Connor received him into the full communion with the Catholic Church Ruth Gledhill reports "Tony Blair tells the Pope: you're wrong on homosexuality"
Tony Blair has challenged the “entrenched” attitudes of the Pope on homosexuality, and argued that it is time for him to “rethink” his views.Converts, when most priests receive them into the Church are expected to make the statement, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” It just shows how much "wriggle room" His Eminence understands there to be in simple form of words.
Speaking to the gay magazine Attitude, the former Prime Minister, himself now a Roman Catholic, said that he wanted to urge religious figures everywhere to reinterpret their religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal, and suggested that in time this would make all religious groups accept gay people as equals.
Asked about the Pope’s stance, Mr Blair blamed generational differences and said: “We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith.”
The Pope, who is 82, remains firmly opposed to any relaxation of the Church’s traditional stance on homosexuality, contraception or any other area of human sexuality. He has described homosexuality as a “tendency” towards an “intrinsic moral evil”.
Mr Blair, who now travels the world on behalf of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which aims to promote understanding of the main religions, left the Church of England for Rome soon after leaving office in 2007.
In the interview Mr Blair spoke of a “quiet revolution in thinking” and implied that he believed the Pope to be out of step with the public.
“There are many good and great things the Catholic Church does, and there are many fantastic things this Pope stands for, but I think what is interesting is that if you went into any Catholic Church, particularly a well attended one, on any Sunday here and did a poll of the congregation, you’d be surprised at how liberal-minded people were.” The faith of ordinary Catholics is rarely found “in those types of entrenched attitudes”, he said.
He also thought that in Islam there would eventually be a change of heart. “I believe that, ultimately, people will find their way to a sensible reformation of attitudes.”
People’s thinking had changed fundamentally, he added. “Now, that doesn’t mean to say there’s not still a lot of homophobia and a lot of things to be done. But the fact that it is unacceptable for any mainstream political party to be anything other than on the side of equality and respect is, in a way, the biggest change. The items of individual legislation matter a lot, but I think it’s the general shift in climate that is perhaps the most important point.”
He said: “When people quote the passages in Leviticus condemning homosexuality, I say to them — if you read the whole of the Old Testament and took everything that was there in a literal way, as being what God and religion is about, you’d have some pretty tough policies across the whole of the piece.”
He continued: “What people often forget about, for example, Jesus or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad, is that their whole raison d’être was to change the way that people thought traditionally.”
No change in the Catholic Church’s stance is likely under the present leadership. The Church in England and Wales, which has been more liberal, is expected to move rightwards under the new Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, who has become increasingly conservative since becoming a bishop and archbishop.
While some converts become more conservative than those born to Roman Catholicism, the interview with Attitude’s Johann Hari shows that Mr Blair has allied himself firmly with the Church’s liberal wing.
Conventional wisdom was not necessarily wise, he said. “It can be wrong and it can be just a form of conservatism that hides behind a consensus. If you look back in time, through the suffragette movement, the fight against slavery, it’s amazing how the same arguments in favour of prejudice crop up again and again and again.”
He also claimed that the mood was changing in evangelical circles, which have been long been anti-gay — the source of the dispute that has taken the worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.
Referring to his contacts with evangelical groups in the US and elsewhere through the foundation, he said: “I think there is a generational shift that is happening. If you talk to the older generation, yes, you will still get a lot of pushback, and parts of the Bible quoted, and so on. But if you look at the younger generation of evangelicals, this is increasingly for them something that they wish to be out of — at least in terms of having their position confined to being anti-gay.”
Not only is the Cardinal expected to be offered a place in the House of Lords in his retirement but also to join the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, as much as I admire my former bishop, I hope he manages to Christ's Faith Foundation, aka the Catholic Church.