By Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

ROME, Italy, December 9, 2008 ( – Despite heavy criticism the invitation still stands for Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and a prominent pro-abortion public figure, to speak at a conference on women’s rights at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome.

Sister Helen AlfordSr. Helen Alford, the conference’s organiser, has issued a form response defending the choice to invite Blair to many of the hundreds who have contacted her expressing their dismay at the invitation, saying, “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.” Sr. Alford noted that this body had invited Mrs. Blair to speak to its 2006 plenary assembly.

She added that after Blair’s speech, “as a spontaneous act of kindness,” Pope Benedict XVI received her in a private audience.

“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.”

Since broke the story last week, the uproar in the Catholic world over the invitation has attracted the attention of British secular media outlets including the Daily Mail and the BBC. Sr. Alford told the Mail on Sunday that she was surprised at the response but that there was “no question” of cancelling the engagement. “We have received  more than 200 complaints saying Mrs. Blair is not living out the teachings of the Catholic Church, despite saying she is a Catholic.

“There is no question of the talk being cancelled but I never expected such a backlash.”

Sr. Alford did not return calls or emails from by deadline. But her response, sent to the Eternal Word Television Network in the US, among others, has only added further fuel to the fire.

Joanna Bogle, a London-based Catholic writer and broadcaster, criticized the University’s decision, saying, “There is no reason whatever why Mrs. Blair should speak at a Pontifical University. The Church can draw on many excellent women speakers with superb credentials to tackle issues concerning women’s rights and freedoms – it is absurd to invite instead some one who passionately supports organisations promoting abortion.”

“She (Blair) honoured the 75th anniversary celebrations of Britain’s Family Planning Association [FPA] … as the special celebrity guest,” observed Bogle, “cutting the celebration cake and being photographed brandishing a condom.”

Bogle pointed out that neither the FPA nor Planned Parenthood do any other work than promote abortion and contraception, “so she wasn’t helping them with other projects.”

“They don’t make quilts or serve tea to the poor, or teach mathematics or help Auntie with the housework … they promote abortion and contraception: that’s what they were established to do, and that’s what they do, and when Mrs Blair raises funds for them she knows that what the funds are for.”

Many have taken exception to Sr. Alford having used as an excuse the action of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, saying that the Vatican’s was an error that should not be reproduced by a Pontifical University.

John Smeaton, the director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, wrote, “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,” said Smeaton, “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.”

As for Blair having been received “as an act of kindness” by Pope Benedict, many commenters and bloggers have pointed out that at the time, 2006, Mrs. Blair was the wife of one of the most important leaders of the western world. Smeaton wrote, “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.”

A spokesman for the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education told that there has been quite an “uproar” over the issue and that, although the Cardinal Prefect and his secretary declined to comment, his office had received many communications about it from concerned Catholics.

To express concerns:

  William Cardinal Levada
 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
 Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11, 00193 Roma, Italy

  To email the CDF:
  William Cardinal Levada
  [email protected] [links to mailto:[email protected]]

  Pope Benedict:
  [email protected]

Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski
  Congregation for Catholic Education
  Palazzo della Congregazioni,
  Piazza Pio XII, 3
  00193 Roma, Italia

Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas
  Social Sciences Faculty
  Largo Angelicum,
  1 – 00184
  Roma, Italia
  Phone: +39-066702402
  Fax +39-066702417
[email protected]

To contact conference organisers:

in English:
  Sr. Helen Alford op,
[email protected],
  tel: 06 67 02 353,
  fax 06 67 02 417

in Italiano: Dr. Girolamo Rossi,
  335 6956196

Read related coverage:

Pro-Abortion Cherie Blair to Speak at Prominent Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome