Tony Blair Praises Pope's Courage As Backlash Grows over Visit

London Evening Standard
September 15, 2010

Tony Blair autographs copies of his book in New York

Tony Blair today praised Pope Benedict amid a growing row over the Papal visit, which begins tomorrow.

The former prime minister wrote a front page article for the Vatican weekly newspaper as a number of academics, scientists and writers launched an attack on the Catholic Church and the Government for according the Pope a State visit.

In a letter to the Guardian, Stephen Fry, authors Sir Terry Pratchett and Phillip Pullman and scientist Professor Richard Dawkins among others condemned the Vatican for opposing the distribution of condoms in Africa, denying abortion to vulnerable women, opposing equal rights for gays and lesbians and failing to address the issue of abuse of children within the Church.

Professor Dawkins will join campaigner Peter Tatchell in a Protest the Pope march and rally in London on Saturday to condemn the "cover-up" over sexual abuse and the "sexism and homophobia" of the Church.

Disclosures today suggested that more than half the Catholic clergy jailed for paedophile activity were still in the priesthood.

Tony Blair autographs copies of his book outside the studios of the Daily Show in New York

The Church said seven applications for dismissal were under way or were due to take place. The Pope is expected to hold secret meetings with abuse victims during his visit.

In his article for L'Osservatore Romano, Mr Blair said many Catholics admire the Pope for the same "intellectual courage" they saw in Cardinal Newman, who the Pope will beatify during his visit.

He wrote: "In England there have been very few saints in recent times, at least one recognised by the Church. That's why English Catholics are delighted by the beatification of John Henry Newman.

"For this reason a Pope is coming to our country and what's more a Pope in total harmony with the thinking of Newman, with his spirit and ideas."

Mr Blair said of his own Faith Foundation: "I think Newman would have been a strong ally in the promotion of dialogue between religions because of his theory of development. My Faith Foundation confirms people's faith and obtains respect for people of other faiths."

Newman, founder of the Birmingham Oratory, was a leading Anglican cleric who converted to Catholicism in 1854.

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