When former British Prime Minister Tony Blair formally entered the Roman Catholic Church, reporters told us almost — almost — everything readers would want to know about Blair’s conversion. John F. Burns of The New York Times wrote a particularly insightful story:
Mr. Blair’s convent-educated wife, Cherie, and four children are Catholics, and Mr. Blair had for many years made a practice of attending Mass with them, saying he did so to keep his family together on Sundays.
Aides have said he delayed his formal conversion until after leaving office to avoid making his religious beliefs a political issue, and because of the risk of stirring controversy over his role, as prime minister, in appointing Anglican bishops.
Mr. Blair also faced concerns within the Catholic hierarchy in London and Rome, centering on policies adopted by his government during his 10 years in power that drew fierce criticism from the conservative hierarchy of the church. Among these were the Blair government’s support for [embryonic] stem cell research, gay adoptions and the legalization of gay civil unions, as well as its resistance to toughening Britain’s abortion laws.
In 1996, the year before Mr. Blair became prime minister, Cardinal Basil Hume, then the head of the Catholic Church in Britain, wrote to Mr. Blair asking him to stop taking communion at a Catholic church in the London district of Islington, near his home.
Mr. Blair accepted the decision, but wrote back to the cardinal, according to the account given by his aides later, saying, “I wonder what Jesus would have made of it.”
Burns packed a ton of information in those five paragraphs — Blair’s wife was educated in a convent; Blair sought to keep the family together on Sundays; the conflict or at least awkwardness of having the Prime Minister, a Catholic, appoint Anglican bishops; his conflict with the Church hierarchy over hot-button cultural issues; and his private musing or defiance about being chastised for taking Holy Communion while an Anglican.
My only real beef with Burns’ story, and it is the same beef I had with those of London’s The Times and The Associated Press, is that it fails to mention why exactly Blair converted. Blair presumably had familial reasons to convert, but were there others? Why would a politician whose positions on cultural issues were anathema to Church teaching seek its embrace?
If Blair was unavailable for comment or declined to give a reason for his conversion, reporters should have said so. I mean, really: A powerful former world leader sought the waiting arms of the Catholic Church.
Readers deserve to know his reasons for doing so, if he is willing to discuss them. Reporters will need to ask.
Meanwhile, that London Times story featured the one of the strangest passages in the coverage so far. It’s one thing to ask Blair probing questions. It something else to try to go where no one has a right to go. Check this out:
Before the profession of faith and reception the candidate makes a confession of sins. … There has been public speculation about whether Mr Blair’s confession would include any reference to the war in Iraq, or to Parliamentary policy on “life” issues during his time as Prime Minister.