Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 16:46 UK

Blair questions Papal gay policy

Tony Blair
Mr Blair said some religious leaders feared "conceding too much ground"

Tony Blair has questioned the Pope's attitude towards homosexuality, arguing that religious leaders must start "rethinking" the issue.

Some older Catholics had "entrenched attitudes", while most congregations were more "liberal-minded", he added.

Mr Blair, who converted to Catholicism after resigning as UK prime minister in 2007, told the gay magazine Attitude that views had to keep "evolving".

But he added that Pope Benedict XVI also stood for "many fantastic things".

Last December the Pope angered gay and lesbian groups by arguing that blurring distinctions between males and females could lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race.

In a letter to bishops in 1986, when he was a cardinal, he wrote: "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."

'Discipline'

Asked about this comment, Mr Blair told Attitude that "there is a huge generational difference here.

"And there's probably that same fear amongst religious leaders that if you concede ground on an issue like this, because attitudes and thinking evolve over time, where does that end?

His career is interesting in that he's attacked in certain quarters for being gay, and yet, at the same time, I don't believe that has altered in any shape or form people's opinion of him
Tony Blair on Lord Mandelson

"You'd start having to rethink many, many things. Now, my view is that rethinking is good, so let's carry on rethinking.

"Actually, 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.

"So some of these things can then result in a very broad area of issues being up for discussion. That's when I understand why religious leaders are very reluctant."

Mr Blair, who has set up his own faith foundation, was then asked: "Can you foresee a situation where in your lifetime or mine, we would have a pro-gay Pope, for example?"

"I don't know, is the honest answer. I don't know. Look, 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."

'Compassion'

Asked if he meant that the average Catholic congregation speaks for the Catholic Church more than the Pope does, Mr Blair replied: "Well, I'm not going to say that! On many issues, I think the leaders of the Church and the Church will be in complete agreement.

"But I think on some of these issues, if you went and asked the congregation, I think you'd find that their faith is not to be found in those types of entrenched attitudes.

"If you asked 'what makes you religious?' and 'what does your faith mean to you?' they would immediately go into compassion, solidarity, relieving suffering.

"I would be really surprised if they went to 'actually, it's to do with believing homosexuality is wrong' or 'it's to do with believing this part of the ritual or doctrine should be done in this particular way'."

The Catholic Church opposes gay marriage, teaching that, while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are.

'Prejudice weak'

During his interview, Mr Blair said homophobia in society had receded since the early 1990s and that his government's introduction of civil partnerships had given people a "sense of liberation from prejudice".

He added that Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, one of his closest advisers during his time in British politics, had suffered from anti-gay prejudice "in some quarters".

But Mr Blair also said: "His [Mandelson's] career is interesting in both senses in that he's attacked in certain quarters for being gay, and yet, at the same time, also, I don't believe that has altered in any shape or form people's opinion of him.

"What those comments indicate is that the prejudice is still there, but what they also indicate is that its force is very weak, really. Because people like him or don't like him, but it's not based on his sexuality."

Mr Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, usually refused to discuss his religious views while in office.

He converted to Catholicism, a faith he shares with his wife Cherie, in December 2007.

The BBC has contacted the Catholic Church in England and Wales but it has not so far been able to comment on Mr Blair's remarks.

WHAT THE BLOGS ARE SAYING ABOUT BLAIR

Tony Blair's interview with Attitude Magazine has caused the blogosphere to rumble with opinions on the former prime minister's faith.

The Times's religion correspondent, Ruth Gledhill observed in her blog that Blair as a convert hasn't followed the stereotypical route for Catholic converts after joining the church two years ago:

Interesting that many converts become more conservative than those born to a faith or denomination, but Tony Blair has stuck by his liberal principles.

A similar shock was felt by Anglican blogger Archbishop 'Cranmer' that Tony Blair would seemingly question the Pope:

Good grief, even Cranmer knows that Roman Catholicism is not like à la carte Anglicanism: one may not choose one dimension of the Magisterium and pour scorn upon the rest.

Mr Blair's status as a convert was used to criticise his Catholic credentials by many bloggers including the Catholic publishers Ignatius Press in their blog :

All of those who criticized or expressed serious doubts about the former Prime Minister's dedication to Church teaching and wondered a bit about his becoming Catholic will say, understandably, "Told you so!"

Even a self proclaimed 'recovering Catholic' blogger 'Leather Penguin' agrees ,

So I am sick and tired of these newly-born RC "adherents" telling everyone else that they know their newly bought faith better than anyone else.

The trend for saying Blair's pro-gay stance as not taking Catholicism seriously continues in the Catholic blog Copes and Candles :

Let us hope and pray the day comes when he takes it [Catholicism] seriously.

A main point of Arden Forester's criticism was Blair's view that the Catholic church's anti-gay stance was due to a generation gap.

The Church is totally opposed to cruel and hateful attacks on anybody, including those of a homosexual orientation. But it can never compromise the sacraments to suit the passing needs of society.

To add to this, Simon-Peter Davies has dissected the above article in his blog, commenting on why he believes Tony Blair is wrong about changing Catholic attitudes,

"The difference, Mr Blair, is not generational...it's a question of orthodoxy, and that doesn't come with age.

Damian Thompson, Editor of the Catholic Herald, was against Mr Blair's questioning of the Pope in his Telegraph blog:

Well, the Pope would rather like Mr Blair to rethink his entrenched support for abortion, but he hasn't done so, has he? Maybe I've missed it, but I haven't read one word of apology by the former Prime Minister for his dreadful voting/abstention record on this issue.

Although many blogs on this subject were critical, the interview was welcomed by some.

One of the blogosphere's supporters of Mr Blair's stance, Arkachips was just thilled that Tony Blair had become the first former primer minister to talk to a gay magazine:

My Prime Minister, Tony Blair, talking to gay magazine, Attitude. One of the many reasons why I'm an unapologetic Blair supporter

Blogger Alison supports Blair's 'compassion' , saying in her blog,

We must celebrate those differences, not condemn them.


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