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James Martin, S.J.April 27, 2009

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that the Vatican has accepted the curing of a Marshfield, Mass., man who was "bent double," the result of a severe spinal disorder as a miracle attributable to Cardinal John Henry Newman.  The miracle would fulfill the requirement for Newman's beatification, which could come as early as this fall, but would probably, according to the Telegraph, happen next year.  He would then become "Blessed John Henry Newman."  (Another miracle would be required for his canonization.)  Here's the link.

Newman would make a fascinating and somewhat controversial modern saint: On the one hand, he is beloved by traditional Catholics (among them Pope Benedict XVI) for the moving story of his conversion from Anglicanism, his "theology of conscience," as well as his elegant apologias for the Catholic faith.  But he is also loved by progressive Catholics for his ideas on the "development of doctrine."  And, ironically, many Catholics suspicious of clericalism often quote this prince of the church who quipped, "Who are the laity?  I answered that the church would look foolish without them.")  

And not long ago, in preparation for his beatification, church officials attempted to unearth his remains in order to "transfer" them to a place more appropriate for public veneration but found little left.  (Something quite the opposite of the tradition of the "incorruptible" saint.)  The exhumation proved controversial since Newman had explicitly asked to be buried next to his lifelong friend, Ambrose St. John.  "As far as this world was concerned, I was his first and last...he was my  earthly light," Newman wrote.   As a result, he is somewhat beloved among the gay community as well, who claim him as one of their own.

Newman: favorite of traditionalists, progressives, anti-clericalists and gays? It's a bit like the quest for the historical Jesus. Which Jesus you're looking for depends a great deal on what you're looking for. Stay tuned for the controversy over the historical Newman.

James Martin, S.J.

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