Nobody sincerely wanting to become a Catholic should ever be refused: their reasons are between themselves and God

Sometimes, in the discussion which follows a blog, a subject is introduced which may be in some ways more important than that addressed in the article itself. Thus it was, in the debate that followed my recent blog criticising Cherie Blair’s astonishing attack on women who decide to give up their paid employment to look after their children.

It was an important subject: but the exchange which followed my blog about it threw up an entirely different one; and I need now to return to it, since not only did I not explain my own view as fully as I should have done, but the discussion I provoked was itself inconclusive.

“It was always outrageous to me”, declared one correspondent, “that her hubby B. liar was ever accepted into the Church.… To me it is yet another thing that should be held against the cause of Pope John Paul II’s canonisation (love him though I do). He should have refused Blair’s reception into the Church. The Blairs are so obviously and completely anti-Christian.”

As it happens, I had written, more than once, before the news that he really was going to be received, explaining why the rumours about Blair’s imminent reception into the Church couldn’t be true because of his views on a number of issues, including abortion and embryo research, not to mention the legislation enacted by his government bringing about civil unions and the closure of our Catholic adoption agencies: I naturally assumed that because of his beliefs on these topics he wouldn’t want to be a Catholic. So I was astonished when he actually did cross the Tiber.

But at the time I refused all media invitations to provide hostile comment, since becoming a Catholic is a process which does bring about huge changes in one’s relationship with God (only those who have done it in adulthood can know how great the changes can be) and I was in no position to know what had gone through Blair’s mind as he prepared for his reception. Nobody, when you are received, asks you publicly to repudiate your previous life (though of course you make your general confession): but you do, at your reception, declare your belief in all that the Church teaches to be necessary to salvation. The whole process is a revolution in your life. How did I know what Blair thought now?

Above all, it seemed to me that the whole question of whether or not he should have become a Catholic was principally to do with his own personal relationship with God: what could I know about that? So, to the suggestion that Pope John Paul should have blocked his entry into the Church (though actually Blair was received in the present pontificate) I replied, as part of the post-blog discussion on the matter, “Nobody should ever be refused entry into the Church: this is not some Pall Mall club in which we have a blackball…. It is not for us to judge: there is always a good reason for wanting to be a Catholic.” Well, that brought the wrath of several correspondents down on my head: as you may read if you are interested.

There was also, of course, widespread controversy at the time. This is how the Mail reported it:

John Smeaton, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “During his premiership Tony Blair became one of the world’s most significant architects of the culture of death, promoting abortion, experimentation on unborn embryos, including cloned embryos, and euthanasia by neglect.

“SPUC is writing to Tony Blair to ask him whether he has repented of the anti-life positions he has so openly advocated.”

Former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe, herself a convert, raised Mr Blair’s previous support for embryo research, gay ‘marriage’ and abortion, saying: “My question would be, has he changed his mind?”

….a Church source said: “Whatever he previously believed or did is a matter for individual conscience. The Vatican welcomed his decision ‘with respect and joy’, so if the Pope is welcoming it, it seems a little strange that some English Catholics are questioning it.”

Well, HAS he change his mind? What does Mr Blair believe now? John Smeaton has pointed out that Blair’s modestly entitled “Tony Blair Faith Foundation” is affiliated with some of the most vigorous proponents of abortion-on-demand on the international scene. The Faiths Act Fellowship, coordinated by the Interfaith Youth Core, is a major initiative of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and is, it seems, deeply connected to the international abortion movement through several of its funding agencies: you can read details of this here.

Does that mean that Blair himself believes what they believe? Possibly; but I don’t know, he hasn’t said.

The question of whether someone who may believe in a woman’s “right” to abortion should be received into the Church irresistibly raises another: How CAN he or she be refused, when so many Catholics (like Blair’s own wife) do believe in these things without being actually EXPELLED from the Church? It is clear, for instance, that Blair has been greatly influenced by his friend Hans Küng, who though he has had his licence to teach Catholic theology revoked is still “in good standing” as a Catholic priest.

“The Church’s absolute prohibition of abortion”, Küng has pronounced “is a merciless extremism that could be anything but Christian”. His clear view is that the fertilized ovum is not a human person, and he quotes St Thomas to justify his view. “There is a great difference between the classic Catholic doctrine and St. Thomas Aquinas’ position, because he thinks that human animation is a process and there is not a human person from the beginning,” said Küng. The Thomist view is that “because the human person, presupposes an anima intellectualis, an intellect, what distinguishes humans from animals, it is clear that at the beginning there is not a human person.”

For this reason, says Küng, “a fertilized ovum, evidently is human life but is not a person. So the problem of abortion is considerably reduced.”

Well, I’m not going to get into refuting THAT, I don’t have the space (though maybe I will when I do). But if an undoubtedly devilishly plausible theologian like Küng, who still has a considerable reputation in academic circles, and who is STILL A CATHOLIC PRIEST IN GOOD STANDING (WHY, WHY, WHY?) spins this doctrinal web, and if his good friend Tony Blair is, not surprisingly, caught in it, how can we argue that his application to join the Church should have been turned down? Why should he not be a member of the Church for holding Küng’s views, when Küng is actually a priest in that same Church despite holding them himself?

I repeat; Küng is still “in good standing” as a priest. In other words, he may still preach and teach the faith in a pastoral situation though not, since the removal of his licence to teach theology, in a Catholic theology department; in other words he’s a theologian who is a Catholic priest, but he’s not a Catholic theologian.

I am confused by this. I cannot myself see any reason why Küng should not have been forcibly laicised years ago. Many would call that an extreme and intolerant view; I would argue that it is simply a rational one. How can the Church still give him the authority to teach, on its behalf, that so many of the Church’s teachings are false? But even I, “extremist” though some may argue me to be, do not see how Küng could be actually expelled from the Church, despite his besetting sins (as it seems to me; though I am not his judge) of gross intellectual pride. There has to be the possibility of dying in a state of final penitence, a much more likely outcome within the Church: how can he be denied that? And if Küng cannot be expelled, then it was not, could not have been, right for Blair to be denied entry. Within the Church all things are possible; Blair’s journey of faith is not yet over. It is surely not for us to say more than that about his membership of the Universal Church.