Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Communion and Tony Blair 

I have seen this 'factoid' come up repeatedly. You can trust NCR picked it up. After detailing the efforts of some bishops to use the Eucharist to 'punish' dissidents, NCR editor Thomas Roberts muses: 'Where would the pope land in this discussion? After all . . . the pope himself, in February 2003, gave communion to England's Prime Minister Tony Blair, a pro-choice politician and an Anglican.' The patronizing cynicism practically bleeds off the page. Anything that lets dissenters like Roberts pretend to seize the 'high moral ground,' to accuse faithful Catholics of being 'more Catholic than the Pope,' gives me pause. Practically every liberal Catholic journal in the country has pasted this 'event' all over their pages.

I vaguely recall hearing about this event last year. Lots of rumours flying about, but neither Blair nor the Vatican going on record; lots of confusion then, lots of confusion now. It seems that some journalist started the whole thing going, but there were enough people on hand to testify to it. In 2003 we could brush it off as an unfortunate incident hardly worth remembering. But, with the recent burst of events in the U.S., all focusing on the denial of communion to dissenters, the issue comes rushing back like a freight train.

So what happened? The folks at Sanctificarnos have an interesting link and some comments. Now Blair's wife and children are Catholics (well, CINO perhaps, but nonetheless, it's not quite so scandalous), so I can see them being granted communion. But for Blair, there should have been no question. Some possibilities:

(1) A deliberate dimplomatic maneuver by the Secretary of State? One hell of a bungle, and one that's hardly forgivable. It's hard to believe this type of thing would be PLANNED, though. The Secretary of State is a politiican, but he's also a Cardinal and would without a doubt know his theology. There's no way he could make that kind of decision in advance without consulting the other Secretariats, which would certainly have nixed that plan right in the bud. I have to believe it was a regrettable mistake.
(3) A deliberate choice by the Pope himself, perhaps having second thoughts about the ban on intercommunion? Even harder to believe.
(3) The product of an aging Pope with poor eyesight and a failing memory? I mean, we can't expect him to assess each and every one of the zillion faces that come up for communion each day and gauge whether or not they're fit for communion. I'm sure that, by now, he's doing the gesture in his sleep. Now, Tony Blair should have stood out in the crowd a bit; but perhaps it was a mistake in the midst of panic -- no one expected him to come forward, but here he is, with no time to make contingency plans or think about the fallout, and the Holy Father doesn't want to create an international incident at the altar . . .
(4) The whole thing never happened. The Pope gave him a blessing and some onlookers misinterpreted it as communion.

My guess is #3 or #4. But if #4, why doesn't either Blair or the Holy See clarify the incident with a brief memo? It doesn't help to have misinformation of this magnitude floating about, especially since the Holy See has been issuing all sorts of doctrinal notes regarding participation in communion for dissenters. #3 then? Any thoughts?

# posted by Jamie : 8:45 AM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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