LONDON, FEB. 16, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Tony Blair overturned British government policy to ban Catholics from representing the nation to the Holy See because he considered the ban “the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.”
This is what the former prime minister — now himself a Catholic — reveals on a documentary to be aired Wednesday by the BBC Northern Ireland.
In the documentary, titled “Our Man in the Vatican,” Blair recounts his surprise at learning in 2005 of the policy, when the ambassador post became vacant.
“I said, ‘It’s the Vatican, the Pope, he’s a Catholic. You mean we actually as a matter of policy … say you can’t have a Catholic?’ I said, ‘What is this? It’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard,'” Blair said, as reported by the BBC.
“Can you imagine we say for years and years and years the one category of person we shouldn’t have as ambassador to the Holy See is someone who shares their faith?” he added. “I don’t think that is very sensible — not in this day.
“Quite apart from being discriminatory, how stupid is it?”
Formal diplomatic links between England and the Holy See were first established in 1479; in fact, the ambassador position before the Holy See is the oldest in the United Kingdom’s diplomatic service.
However, when England’s relationship with the Vatican went sour under Henry VIII, ties were broken and were not restored until 1914.
The BBC noted how in 1917, a Foreign Office memorandum stated Britain’s Holy See representative “should not be filled with unreasoning awe of the Pope.”
The Blair administration’s selection of Francis Campbell, still the British ambassador, finally broke that trend.
Now, the embassy is considered a “vital part of the UK’s overseas network,” as explained on the embassy’s site. “The mission works jointly with the Holy See on international development, interfaith and climate change. But those examples are replicated many times over in ecumenism, conflict prevention, disarmament and human rights, not to mention the value of the Holy See as a global listening post.
“In an era when religion has once more emerged in international relations, the Vatican is key to the continuing policy debate on the proper boundary between faith and politics. The Vatican is a key stabilizing influence in the global faith/politics debate and helps keep discussion rational.”
Faith and politics
Campbell’s role as ambassador will be unique this year as he prepares for Benedict XVI’s trip to Great Britain in September.
The Holy Father already caused a stir in England when he told the nation’s bishops Feb. 1 that some legislation designed to protect equality imposes “unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs,” and sometimes “actually violates the natural law.”
British government is considering the Equality Bill, defended as protection from discrimination due to sex or sexual orientation.
Critics caution that it could restrict the Church from selecting staff or even priests who live according to Church teaching and morality.