Monday 8 December 2008

False idea of academic freedom no defence for inviting Cherie Blair

As I blogged last week, Cherie Blair has been invited to speak this Friday at the Angelicum, a leading Catholic university in Rome, on the subject of women and human rights. Mrs Blair has a long-track record of supporting anti-life and anti-family causes, in opposition to Catholic teaching. Sister Helen Alford, the dean of the Angelicum's social sciences faculty, has replied in response to the more than 200 complaints made to the Angelicum demanding Mrs Blair's invitation be cancelled. The first part of Sister Helen's reply reads:

"By inviting Mrs Blair, we, as a faculty of social sciences, are following the example of the Pope’s own social sciences institute, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, based in the Vatican itself. Mrs Blair was invited to make an address to its 2006 plenary assembly, which focused on children and young people ... Obviously, in doing so, neither the Vatican as a whole, nor the Pope personally, was in any way endorsing a pro-abortion point of view, and neither are we."

Whom the Pope meets in audience is an entirely separate matter. Everyone knows that any Pope must meet a wide range of prominent public figures in order to carry out effectively his pastoral ministry and diplomatic role.

In contrast, it was not justified of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to have invited Mrs Blair to speak in 2006, nor is it justified of the Angelicum today. Let us suppose that, in the 1930s a lawyer had hosted, celebrated and endorsed organisations which promoted, performed and/or demanded the killing of Jews. Would it have been right for Catholic universities and academies to have invited such a lawyer to be a featured speaker? There is no moral difference between the killing of Jews and the killing of unborn children. Whatever the views of the Angelicum, the Angelicum's invitation to Mrs Blair to be a featured speaker implies that the killing of unborn children is less morally significant than the racist killings of born people.

The second part of the Sister Helen's reply basically says that the presentation of the other featured speaker at the conference, Professor Janne Haaland Matlary, will be strongly pro-life. I'm delighted to hear it, but that fact doesn't make the invitation to Mrs Blair any less unacceptable. In the 1930s, inviting an anti-Holocaust speaker would not have made inviting a pro-Holocaust speaker any less unacceptable. It should be noted that Friday's event at the Angelicum is not a debate between Prof. Matlary and Mrs Blair but a conference with featured speakers.

Nothing has been said in advance about what Mrs Blair will say in her presentation "Religion as a Force in protecting Women's Human Rights", though there is nothing to prevent her using her speech to oppose Catholic pro-life/pro-family teaching. The Angelicum says the conference will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "remember that the full recognition of the rights of women is still a goal to be achieved" and "examine the dangers that relativistic thinking poses for the future of human rights". Yet the anti-life/anti-family organisations that Mrs Blair has endorsed all believe abortion to be a universal human right yet to be achieved, and are the world's leading promoters of the very same relativistic thinking which endangers the future of human rights. The Cherie-endorsed IPPF and FPA UK both endorsed the failed campaign to remove the Holy See from the United Nations. (Mrs Blair is pictured above cutting a special 75th anniversary birthday cake for FPA and offering the cameraman a condom.)

Mrs. Blair's failure to defend Catholic pro-life teaching is explained by her strong, personal endorsement of anti-life/anti-family organisations. She has said explicitly on a number of occasions that she rejects Catholic teaching on sexual morals. And when asked in May by the Catholic Herald newspaper what she thought of her husband's voting record in favour of abortion, she was reportedly stuck for an answer, saying: "I think that...", pausing before replying: "I don't think I want to answer that."

Some people may say withdrawing the invitation to Mrs Blair would be to suppress academic freedom. The good of academic freedom is not absolute, nor it is equal to the good of human life and its defence. There is a massive difference between Catholics researching the anti-life/anti-family movement in order to combat its arguments, and giving a platform to an active supporter of the anti-life/anti-family movement, a platform which she (or he) can use to espouse those arguments. The truth of the sanctity of human life is not a relative concept, to be equated with the anti-truth of abortion, as if the former was just an opinion and the latter a viewpoint one may dislike.

In any case, there are many other experts on women and rights whom the Angelicum could invite instead, who are totally pro-life and pro-family. Just because a speaker has expert knowledge in a particular area doesn't mean all other considerations are irrelevant. Why not invite Osama bin Laden to speak on Middle East politics or pro-infanticide bioethicist Peter Singer to speak on neo-natal medicine?

Dietrich von Hildebrand, the Catholic intellectual, wrote a popular book entitled "Trojan Horse in the City of God", which explained how certain figures were undermining the Church from within. I can think of no better description of Cherie Blair (or her husband). Defenders of life and family must re-double the pressure upon the Angelicum to withdraw Mrs Blair's invitation. You can contact the following relevant persons at the Angelicum:

Sister Helen Alford O.P, dean of the Angelicum's Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel +39 06 67 02 353

The Angelicum's Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: +39 06 67 02 402, fax +39 06 67 02 417

The Angelicum's secretariat, email

You may also like to contact His Eminence Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education:

by fax: +39 06 69 88 41 72
by post: Congregation for Catholic Education, Palazzo della Congregazioni, Piazza Pio XII 3, 00193 Roma, Italia