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Volume 2, Number 47              January 5 - 11, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Blair Slammed Over Iraq War By His Own Priest

By Tom Newton Dunn
Defence Correspondent

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TONY BLAIR was yesterday accused of "moral surrender" over war in Iraq - by his own priest.

Father Timothy Russ hit out after the Blair family attended his Catholic church near Chequers.

After the service Fr Russ, a family friend, told the Daily Mirror violence and loss of life are not God's way to solve the world's problems.

Father Russ, priest at St Anne's Roman Catholic Church near the PM's Chequers home said: "Man must live by the will to integrity rather than the will to power. The PM is caught up in the will to power game. That is his problem.

"He has had a moral surrender from his past. His positions have changed over the years... He may not like me very much for telling you but it is my job to try to speak the truth from God."

Father Russ spoke as religious leaders around the world branded military strikes on Baghdad unjustified and said they would unleash untold suffering in the region.

After giving the Blairs and other worshippers a sermon on peace in their Christmas Day trip to church, Father Russ said the PM had "morally surrendered" over plans to attack Iraq.

The Roman Catholic priest added: "My sermon was all about the need to keep the light shining bright and not let the darkness overcome it. It was a message about the need to replace our whole conduct on the wisdom of Christ and God.

"He may not like me very much for telling you but it is my job to try to speak the truth from God and apply it to a very fallen world."

Father Russ, a Cambridge graduate with a first in economics and member of MENSA, writes to Downing Street regularly to make his forthright feelings known to the PM.

He added: "I make my feelings known to him in letters, to which he responds very well."

The Blairs have been regulars at St Anne's for the last five years since the Labour government came to power. And they have got to know Father Russ well as a good family friend and priest.

Yesterday Mr Blair arrived at church first, wearing a casual blue pullover and carrying youngest child Leo, two, followed by Cherie and the couple's other three teenage children.

Almost a hundred other locals made up the congregation at the church near Wendover, Bucks.

Security was unobtrusive as the Blairs chatted to fellow worshippers after the hour-long service.

As the family left, Cherie and eldest son Euan stopped to chat to Father Russ for a few minutes.

Previous Prime Ministers used to worship in another nearby Anglican church. But Catholic Cherie decided on St Anne's instead to match her faith.

Father Russ's comments came as Catholic, protestant and Muslim heads urged Mr Blair and George Bush not to go to war but to strive for peace in an "already troubled and dangerous world".

More than 20 bishops in Britain signed a strongly-worded statement to the two leaders insisting a pre-emptive strike on Iraq would be "illegal, unwise and immoral".

In his Christmas message from the Vatican, Pope John Paul II said war must be avoided even though terrorism leaves the world in fear.

The 82-year-old added: "May humanity accept the Christmas message of peace.

"From the cave of Bethlehem there rises today an urgent appeal to the world not to yield to mistrust, suspicion and discouragement."

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams launched a thinly-veiled attack on Blair and Bush.

He said: "It is as if the wise, the devious and the resourced can't help but make the most immense mistakes of all.

"The strategists who know the possible ramifications of politics miss the huge and obvious things and wreak havoc and suffering.

"Despite better communications, intelligence and surveillance, the innocent continue to be killed.

"Here we all are, tangled in the same net...stepping deeper and deeper into tragedy."

Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O'Connor, leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, added: "We must never give up and assume that war is inevitable.

"Let us pray that each one of us, particularly those involved in international diplomacy and politics, will maintain our permanent commitment to building and maintaining peace in our world."

The Archbishop of York David Hope admitted war may be inevitable, but said: "The Christian tradition is unequivocally clear, namely that war as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ. So the Christian instinct in every age is always programmed against war."

The declaration written by the 20 bishops, endorsed by dozens of American religious leaders, said: "As the calls for action against Iraq continue from our governments, despite the opening for UN weapons inspections, we are compelled by the prophetic vision of peace to speak a word of caution. Mistakes are an inevitable consequence of any war, no matter how sophisticated the weaponry.

"If the military strategy includes massive air attacks and urban warfare in the streets of Baghdad, tens of thousands of innocent civilians could lose their lives."

Muslim leaders warned an attack on Iraq would be widely interpreted as an assault on Islam. And speaking in Baghdad's Anglican Church, Iraqi Christian priest Ikram Mahni said: "We pray to halt this war and let us live in peace together, Christians and Muslims, in Iraq."


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