en Euan Blair, the Prime Minister's eldest son, accidentally drove into a taxi a few years ago, his first reaction was: "Oh God, Mum's going to kill me." But if there is an excessive severity to Cherie Blair's parenting, it was largely absent in a speech she gave last week to a Vatican conference entitled "Vanishing Youth? Solidarity With Children and Young People in an Age of Turbulence".
Parents today, she told the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences' plenary meeting, need to carve out time from their busy schedules and invest it in conversations with their children. The parent-child relationship, she said. should be based not on "dogmatic assertion" but on love and listening. The Church's role, meanwhile, is not just to issue rules but to encourage youths to listen to their own consciences and look at social reality with an informed eye.
Strangely for such a theme, the example of motherhood set by Our Lady was left out of her speech, yet it was nevertheless rich in practical advice and common sense. In an interview with The Catholic Herald after the event, Mrs Blair said that too often in the West it's not childhood and youth that are vanishing but adults who are too busy, caught up in their own egos, leading children to suffer. She spoke of her passion and concern for this "fascinating theme" as a Catholic mother of four, as a human rights lawyer "grappling with the complexities of a morally conflicted and increasingly secular world", and as a person of faith.
Young people, she went on, are facing ever more challenging moral issues but with little support. "I am not sure we can put our hands on our hearts and say, collectively, that we have helped them a great deal in eveh beginning to resolve such dilemmas now and in the future," she said, adding: "We need to rediscover the calling of parenthood and responsible adulthood." She doesn't see these problems as new, however similar challenges posed by glohalisation were faced during the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. And she applauded the Church for leading the way in helping to form human consciousness.
On other matters relating to the Church, Mrs Blair praised the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. "The Holy Father has one of the most challenging tasks in the modem world," she said. "He is a courageous leader who thinks deeply and teaches and writes with great authority." She particularly welcomed his first encyclical ,Deus Caritas Est.
When asked what changes she would like the Pope to make in the future, she replied: "For me, the papacy is not like that. The Pope is not a politician with a manifesto [because the Pope] is chosen in and through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit."
One recent concern of Mrs Blair has been the small number of women in positions of influence at the Vatican. But she said she detected "positive movement" to changing that situation, and that women are "increasingly found in a cross-section of posts in the Church". She also believes women's ordination is ultimately "a matter for the Holy Father and the Magisterium" to decide.
Mrs Blair's respect for the authority of the Church has sometimes been questionable: a few years ago she hosted a Planned Parenthood event in Downing Street. But according to friends, she tries hard to live out her faith in everyday life, and will always attend Mass wherever she might be in the world. "My faith is certainly important to me," she said. "My politics and feminism come out of my faith. When I look back, it is faith that has formed me more than anything else. I would not be the person I am without it. There is always more that any of us can do to better live out our faith and provide a witness."
As for the future, Mrs Blair said she would like to take a more active role in the Church, but finds it difficult to balance this with competing demands. "With God's grace, I'll try to do more," she said.
Rome Correspondent: Edward Pentin E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org