Report: Catholics Capture England Again
ALISON STEWART, host:
Those cheeky British headlines had a field day with former Prime Minster Tony Blair's recent announcement he'd converted to Catholicism.
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All right. I'll start again.
The cheeky British headlines had a field day with former Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent announcement he had converted to Catholicism. The Sunday Mirror read: I'm holy Blair. The Blair Switch Project from the Daily Mail. This was U.K.'s Daily Telegraph reported Blair was not alone in his choice of faith. The Telegraph cited the findings of a Christian Research survey that claims in 2007, more Catholics than Anglicans actually attended church services - this in a country that had a Jewish prime minister, but never a Catholic one.
With us on the phone is Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the Sunday reporter for the Daily Telegraph who reported the story about the Christian Research findings.
Thanks for being with us, Jonathan.
Mr. JONATHAN WYNNE-JONES (Reporter, Daily Telegraph): (unintelligible). Good morning.
STEWART: So tell us about the group that conducted this survey. What's its purpose, and does it have any specific religious affiliation?
Mr. WYNNE-JONES: They're an independent group that carry out research basically for all the churches - Anglican and Catholic, Pentecostal. And they're regarded pretty well over here, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has written the forwards to their reports in the past. So even though they're independent and the figures aren't seen as official, they're not necessarily gospel, but yet they carry a lot weight. So when the findings came out last week, you can imagine that that's quite a big talking point over here which has kind of gone on for a few days.
STEWART: So explain to folks who are listening in the states why it's such big news that you're having, as one person in my office said, more Catholics butts in the pews than Anglican butts.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WYNNE-JONES: There's not many butts in any of the pews anymore. But still, there are marginally few more Catholic ones now than Anglicans at Sunday services, according to this research. The reason why it's seen as so important is because - I mean, the timing was great. It coincided with Blair becoming a Catholic. And you just pointed out, there's never been a Catholic prime minister. And, indeed, there have never really been that many particularly high-profile Catholics over here. So they kind of saw Blair's conversion as a bit of a kind of PR coup for them. And then coming with this news that they are more Catholics going to church on a Sunday than Anglicans, it seemed to confirm to them that no longer are they, you know, religion for the Irish and the working classes, but now, actually, it's kind of establishment figures that are proud to call themselves Catholic.
So, you know, I guess the Anglicans are going to have to go and find some high profile person to claim for themselves now, because the Catholics got the collective PR stuff over Christmas.
STEWART: I want to paraphrase something that Tony Blair told an interviewer for a BBC documentary…
Mr. WYNNE-JONES: Mm-hmm.
STEWART: …about discussing religion. He said, you know, if you're an official in our system, quote, "If you talk about it in our system - and, frankly, people do - they'll think you're a nutter."
Mr. WYNNE-JONES: Yeah. Good phrasing, that.
STEWART: Which I'm assuming means your batty.
Mr. WYNNE-JONES: A nutter mainly means you've got a few screws lose. The lights are on, but nobody's at home, basically. So, yes. I mean, that again was a huge talking point. And he's right to a certain extent. You know, politicians over here, if they do start talking about their faith, people raise eyebrows and get a little bit - you know, get a little bit suspicious about their motives. So it was also very interesting that he said this only a few weeks after - well, a few months after he finally left Downing Street. And immediately, those who are critical of him said, well, you know, here he is now saying, well, my faith has always been a matter of importance to me.
Why couldn't he admit that when he's in Downing Street? Because was it influencing his decisions? What kind of role was it taking? Should religion be influencing political decisions of our leaders? Other ministers, as well as high-profile minister over here who's a Catholic, and she got into a lot of trouble over social issues that was seen as being influenced by her very strict Catholic faith. So there's a pretty - as an issue, it's quite a hot potato over here.
STEWART: So what do you Brits happen to think about our American campaigns, where people…
Mr. WYNNE-JONES: Yeah.
STEWART: …are so very interested in the faith of the people running to lead this country?
Mr. WYNNE-JONES: I mean, Hillary Clinton, I think, went to church, didn't she, last week, and was speaking in church. I think they're probably - it would be fair to say we're pretty skeptical. I think it's probably just clever political campaigning by the different contenders for the White House, and they realize that the Christian vote in America is so important that they need to play that card.
Over here, that's not the case. So - and, you know, if anything, if you do play the Christian or religious card over here, you're more likely to turn voters off than on. Of course, I think people over here realize that it's just part of a, you know, it's just the necessity for running for the White House.
To a certain extent, also, I think there's a bit of a suspicion over here about American politics, and especially if you link George W. Bush and some of the decisions he's made - most clearly, probably, the war in Iraq. And then you try and level that to Christian beliefs. And for those who say, yeah, religion shouldn't be playing a role in a public sphere, they feel this as a prime example.
STEWART: We've been speaking with Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Sunday reporter for the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph.
Thanks so much for walking us through your story. We appreciate it.
Mr. WYNNE-JONES: No worries. Thank you.
STEWART: That does it for this hour of THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. You can find us online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark.
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This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. I'm Alison Stewart. I'm going to go hang with the Mounties. See you.
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