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News – Tony Blair converts to Catholicism

January 1970

Tony Blair converts to Catholicism

The long anticipated conversion to Roman Catholicism of Tony Blair took place just before Christmas when, in front of family and friends, the ex-prime minister was accepted into the Catholic Church by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

Mr Blair was brought up in the Church of England although his parents were not deeply religious. It was as a student at Oxford University that he became interested in religion. He once told Third Way magazine: ‘I was brought up as [a Christian], but I was not in any real sense a practising one until I went to Oxford.

‘There was an Australian priest at the same college as me who got me interested again. In a sense, it was a rediscovery of religion as something living, that was about the world around me rather than some sort of special one-to-one relationship with a remote Being on high. Suddenly I began to see its social relevance. I began to make sense of the world’.
The principal influence leading to Mr Blair’s conversion was his wife Cherie, who is a practising Catholic and who has brought the couple’s children up as Roman Catholics. Mr Blair started attending Catholic mass some time before he became prime minister in 1997.

Private mass

He continued to take mass at home and abroad for many years. In 1996, while Labour Party leader, he was chided by Cardinal Basil Hume, then Archbishop of Westminster, for receiving mass despite not being a Roman Catholic – a contravention of Catholic canon law.

While prime minister, Mr Blair worshipped regularly on Saturday evening at Westminster Cathedral, until security issues forced him to receive mass privately at Number 10 and also at Chequers, his country residence. The anticipation that his conversion was imminent was heightened by a recent visit to Rome where he had a private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

The conversion has not been without criticism and some bemusement, especially from Catholics who fought many unsuccessful battles on moral issues relating to abortion, homosexuality and same-sex weddings during his premiership. While the Roman Catholic Church is clearly delighted to have such a high profile convert, some wonder that Mr Blair’s own convictions on these issues appear so ambiguous.

The Bible reminds us of the need to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2), and not least that they shall be ‘saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’. Sadly, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, particularly the doctrine of justification by faith alone, has long been anathematised by the Roman Catholic Church.

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