Page 3, 19th December 2008

19th December 2008
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Page 3, 19th December 2008 — Cherie calls for more women in the Vatican
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Cherie calls for more women in the Vatican

'I don't have horns and a tail,' says Mrs Blair as she answers criticism of her Catholic faith

BY ANNA ARCO IN LONDON AND NICK PISA IN ROME

CTIERIE BLALR has called for the Vatican to employ more women in leadership roles.

The former Prime Minister's wife said that she thought that half the curial posts in the Vatican should be filled by women.

Speaking at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelicum, Mrs Blair said: "There is no reason why half of all the curia posts should not be filled by women. It seems an impossible dream."

She said: "Just as diversity between and within the sexes enriches human life and strengthens our civil society, so, too, I believe would it strengthen the Church if we could see more women in leadership roles within it."

Mrs Blair, a human rights lawyer, was giving a lecture on women and human rights at the Angelicum. The talk, called "Religion as a Force in Protecting Women's Rights", focused on the role of human rights for women in history and the Church's defence of them. She was there for a one-day conference organised by the Dominican university to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 12.

Mrs Blair spoke about the role of universal human fights from a secular perspective as well as outlining the Church's position in the fight for justice and peace, but argued that there was more room for women in higher positions in the Church.

According to Mrs Blair, government focus in Britain changed after more women were in positions of power in Parliament.

She said that the increase in women parliamentarians showed a government more willing to tackle problems in education, child care and sexual violence against wonien. More women in Vatican jobs would not only shift the debate, she said, but would also give other women strong female role models.

Citing John Paul II about the dignity and role of women, she argued that men and women were different but equal in worth.

She said: "In fact, it's the very different qualities that women bring to the challenges in the world that makes it so vital we tackle discrimination between the genders."

Harmony and peace in the world would be better achieved if there was true equality, Mrs Blair argued.

Mrs Blair's participation in the conference was controversial, raising criticism in the blogosphere and prompting calls for her invitation to be repealed. She has indicated that she does not agree with Church teaching on contraception and critics have accused her of supporting a pro-abortion agenda through her support of pro-abortion charities. In her autobiography, Speaking for Myself, published earlier this year, Mrs Blair revealed that she used birth control herself.

Despite more than 200 complaints the Angelicum refused to cancel the talk. Sister Helen Alford. the dean of social sciences at the Angelicum and the organiser of the conference, responded to criticism from bloggers by saying that the faculty of social sciences was following the Pope's example. Sister Alford said: "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.

-After her speech, as a spontaneous act of kindness, the Pope received Mrs Blair in a private audience, despite the fact that, as it was an unexpected invitation, she was not dressed in the protocol black. She was invited to speak in an academic capacity and was received by the Pope on that basis. 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."

Mrs Blair praised the university for not bowing to pressure.

She said "I'm very pleased that this university was confident enough in the Catholic message not to be put off by assertions about me. I'm not Miss Perfect, that's for sure. but I really don't think I have horns and a tail."

During her speech she quoted Article 3 of the Charter of the Rights of the Family, the Church's document which refers to a couple's right to space out children and decide the size of its family without turning to contraception, sterilisation or abortion.

In the question-and-answer session after the talk Mrs Blair said it would be "rather strange" if she didn't "adhere to the teachings of the Church".

"The Church tightly makes a clear distinction between controlling fertility and terminating a life once a conception has occurred," she said.

"I experienced that myself when I refused to have an amniocentesis test which was regarded as automatic for an elderly mother such as myself when I found myself pregnant with my fourth child.

"Two years later I was more conscious of a life lost when I miscarried a second late pregnancy."

She also said that she was "on the record as having had difficulties with accepting the current teaching on responsible parenthoodwhich has been taken to be a reference to contraception.




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