Theresa May is effectively “Britain’s first Catholic prime minister”, the former education secretary has claimed.
In an article for The Times yesterday, Michael Gove, MP for Surrey Heath, said Theresa May was “an Anglo-Catholic rather than a Roman Catholic, but no less a Catholic for that.”
Gove said that May, though an Anglican and the daughter of a vicar, drew enormously on Catholic social teaching in her approach to her office.
He wrote: “One of the many wonders of the Anglican Church is that it comprehends both those who think of themselves as definitively Protestant in the tradition of Thomas Cranmer and those who believe they are continuity Catholics practising a spirituality and believing in a theology that has passed down from St Augustine to Pusey and Keble. Theresa May’s father, Hubert Brasier, was a priest who very much subscribed to the latter tradition.”
Gove argued that the strength of this Catholic influence was manifest when she participated in the BBC Radio 4 series, Desert Island Discs, and chose two hymns including “Therefore We, Before Him Bending,” which is often sung during the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
He also noted that May had given up her favourite crisps for Lent, which “may not appear to be headline news. I suspect, however, that it’s at least as important as anything else we’ve discovered in the last 10 days.
“The principle of Lenten sacrifice, of giving up something cherished to recall the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, is a discipline observed by many Christians. But it is particularly a feature of Catholic practice.”
Gove said May’s politics could be best understood by examining them through a Catholic prism, “particularly Catholic social thought.”
He wrote: “Catholic social thought places emphasis on the cultivation of virtue rather than the exercise of liberty or the accumulation of prosperity as mankind’s goal… It is striking how much of the prime minister’s rhetoric and policy conversation reflects these beliefs. In interviews, including most strikingly in the New Statesman last month, she refers repeatedly to the common good. Her insistence on ‘an economy that works for everyone’ and referencing of ‘ordinary working families’ are straightforward expressions of the desire in Catholic social thought to view the economy through the prism of human flourishing, not statistical performance.
“Her flirtation with workers on boards, interest in corporate governance reform and laceration of capitalists who plunder firms rather than protect workers is all of a piece with it. As indeed is the description of her approach to policy by a Downing Street aide as ‘post-liberal’.”
A Labour peer has already praised May for drawing on Catholic social tradition. Maurice Glasman, writing in the Catholic Herald last year, said her support for workers on the boards of companies was a “significant” step in the tradition of Pius XI.
May has good relations with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales. The cardinal said he was “personally delighted” when she was appointed prime minister and noted the “maturity of judgement, the steely resolve, the sense of justice and the personal integrity and warmth you have always shown”. The pair had previously worked together in efforts to stop human trafficking, with May attending a conference at the Vatican.