One from the “how did I miss this?” file – Tony Blair is gobsmacked that it was government policy not to appoint a Catholic as ambassador to the Vatican.
The former prime minister tells a BBC Northern Ireland documentary – to be broadcast from Wednesday 17 February – that the policy of banning Catholics from the post was “stupid”, “ridiculous” and “discriminatory”.
Really? Is it discriminatory not to appoint a lobbyist for cigarette manufacturers to a health-related job? Is it discriminatory not to appoint a murderer to run a domestic violence shelter?
Has Tony Blair never heard of the concept “conflict of interest”? The question answers itself; of course he has. Yet the idea that Catholicism might be an interest in that sense appears to leave him dazed with wonder.
In 1917 the Foreign Office issued a memorandum saying that Britain’s representative at the Vatican “should not be filled with unreasoning awe of the Pope,” and the post had been filled by a non-Catholic until Mr Campbell’s appointment.
[T]he ambassadorship to the Holy See became vacant and I said ‘Francis would be a great person to do that’ and they said ‘Well you know this, prime minister, but actually we don’t really have this open to Catholics’ and I honestly thought I misunderstood what they were saying.
“I said ‘How do you mean? We’re talking about that Embassy, the Vatican one’. They said ‘Yes, I know, but not a Catholic there.’
“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’.”
Well if he was really that baffled and stunned, he was being remarkably thick. “The Vatican” is a Catholic thing, just as the mafia is Their Thing. “The Vatican” isn’t a country, it’s the headquarters of the Catholic church. Yes, sending a Catholic ambassador to the headquarters of the Catholic church would be a stupid thing to do, because the ambassador would risk being too deferential to the Vatican. It’s extraordinary for Tony Blair to claim not to be able to take that in.
Mr Blair added: “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?
“I don’t think that is very sensible – not in this day.
“Quite apart from being discriminatory, how stupid is it? So Francis was the first.”
Yes, we can imagine it, because that is the one category of person you shouldn’t have as ambassador to “the Holy See” – and that’s why: it’s because it’s a theological entity, therefore an ambassador of the same religion would not be disinterested, to put it mildly.
Blair always does this absurd pretend game that religion has no actual content and that it therefore can’t possibly be a reason for caution or criticism or rejection. He pretends that his own Catholicism is just a matter of going to church with his family, as if it had no more substantive meaning than seats on an airplane. He shouldn’t do that.