Cardinal Newman: Friend of Traditionalists, Conservatives, Anti-Clericalists and Gays?

More on the protean, complicated, soon-to-be-Blessed John Henry Newman in the newly rescued Boston Globe.


"Because of his protean mind and voluminous writings, then, he is beloved by groups that are often at loggerheads. More traditional Catholics admire Newman's elegant apologias for Catholicism. Progressives embrace his work on conscience and the "development of doctrine," the idea that church belief on some matters can change over time - for the better. And ironically, many Catholics suspicious of clericalism often quote this prince of the church, who once quipped about the laity, "[T]he church would look foolish without them." Indeed, one of his most famous articles was called "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine."

The greatest controversy over the soon-to-be-saint, however, may be his intense relationship with his long-time friend Ambrose St. John. "As far as this world was concerned, I was his first and last . . . he was my earthly light," wrote Newman. Before his death in 1890, Newman made an unusual and strongly worded request. "I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St. John's grave - and I give this as my last, my imperative will," he wrote. As a result, he is beloved among some in the gay community, who often claim him as one of their own.

Last year, church officials announced that they would unearth Newman's remains from a small rural cemetery in Worcestershire in order to transfer them to a marble sarcophagus in the Birmingham Oratory church. But diggers found little left of the cardinal. Some charged that the church wanted to move Newman to whitewash his friendship with St. John. Church officials replied, accurately, that the remains of many saints are often moved to sites that are more appropriate for "public veneration."

Admired by conservatives and liberals, cradle Catholics and converts, as well as anti-clericalists and gays, Cardinal John Henry Newman is destined to be a popular but controverted saint. Who is the "real" Newman? It's a bit like the popular quest for the "historical Jesus." Which one you find depends a great deal on which one you're searching for.

Read the rest here.

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9 years ago
"I was his first and last . . . he was my earthly light," Could anyone really interpret this in any way other than gay love? Perhaps they were celibate, it is certainly possible to love someone intensely, emotionally and completely with having physical relationship.  The irony of the group formed in his name is killing me!    
9 years ago
It is, of course, tragic for the Church that a man such as Cardinal Newman would hardly be considered for a bishopric today given his range of opinions, even in his most tradtionalist sentiments. A lovely, short biography by Murray Elwood (then a priest and campus chaplain inthe Diocese of Syracuse) introduced me to this man and his writings thirty years ago.  While I deplore our methodology of saint making based on medical miracles, I root for his canonization. And I wonder if the many of those who identify with one part of his protean mind and faith could ever meet with those who choose another aspect.  Perhaps we would all be like the blind men and the elephant, but it would nonetheless make a great conference!  America, how about sponsoring it?
9 years ago
"Could anyone interpret this in any way other than gay love?" Anyone who understands the value of a Loving friendship certainly could.
9 years ago
One of the best students of Cardinal Newman was the late Stanley Jaki, OSB. He wrote several books on Newman. He particularly emphasized Newmna's chief concern - the salvation of souls.
9 years ago
"Perhaps they were celibate, it is certainly possible to love someone intensely, emotionally and completely with having physical relationship" Yes, think of Jesus Christ.  Of course intense love is possible without a physical relationship...  And only in the hypersexualized West do we think otherwise.  I can think of several family members as well as friends whom I would call my "earthly light".  And why does sharing an earthly tomb recall a sexual liason?  C.S. Lewis shares a grave with his brother and the cremated remains of Chesterton's secretary are in the tomb of GKC and his wife.  Is there a hint of a melange there as well?  Lastly, Ambrose St. John was intensely loyal to Newman at a time when there were few he could reliably call his friends and his death was devestating to Newman.  Could the melancholic Newman not have meant that Ambrose was "his first and last" friend?  Of course, as a Catholic priest, Newman was called to be a 'friend' to all whom Fr. Martin lists.  But it is amusing that all of them have decided to use Newman to further their own agendas.
9 years ago
If you recall Tim, the Vatican "ignored" Pope JP II's wishes concerning his burial.  Should we assume this was also "possibly yet another example of its anti-gay program"?
9 years ago
It does not matter much if Newman's relationship was sexual.  However, if it inspires homosexual men and women to adopt him has their saint, I am sure he will be glad to have them.  The love of the Father seems to reach out to all who seek Him, sometimes in the most surprising ways.
9 years ago
Another great column by Father Jim.  I like to think the nearly non-existent remains found when trying to remove Cardinal Newman's body is God's sense of justice.  Newman wanted to be buried with a friend whom he loved (a term that does not necessarily mean sexually).  The Vatican ignored Newman's wish, possibly yet another example of its anti-gay pogrom.  Their payoff?  No remains.  God smiles... and so do I.
9 years ago
Simple answer...yes.  The Vatican has made gay men scapegoats for bad seminary training and an unhealthy sense of sexuality.  In the seminary, you couldn't have close male friends.  You were not allowed to have women as friends  You were even discouraged from having too many lay friends.  It was the "fraternity of the priesthood" and you were taught to protect each other at the expense of all others.  Do NOT try to tell me it was different.  I saw it, experienced it, and escaped it.  Self-loathing clergy and church leadership denegrating the dignity of gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people is an affront to me as a Catholic and to all decent, God-loving human beings.  No wonder the church is losing its relevance in the world, especially among young adults, who see its hypocrisy and know right from wrong, without guidance from the church.


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