Vatican Embraces Oscar Wilde?

So here I am in Cape May, New Jersey, at a Jesuit vacation house, ready to go to the beach (yes, even Jesuits need occasional breaks, Gentle Reader) when I duck into a small computer room, check my email and then log onto "Google News," type in the word "Vatican," and find the above headline, which I would place under the general rubric of "You're kidding, right?"  Oscar Wilde, the openly gay playwright and aesthete, is about the last person that one might expect the Vatican to praise, particularly given the church's teaching on homosexuality, and especially of late its vociferous opposition to same-sex marriages. 

But the London Times spotlights a "glowing" review in L'Osservatore Romano, the semi-official Vatican newspaper, of a new book on Oscar Wilde, whose scandalous affair with Lord Alfred Douglas would ultimately lead to two years hard labor in Reading Gaol, which weakened his health and led to Wilde's death in 1900.  (The story is told more or less accurately in the movie "Wilde" with Stephen Fry and Jude Law.) 

Of course headlines like the Guardian's "Vatican Embraces Oscar Wilde" may be overdone.  One review, no matter how favorable, does not a rehabilitation make.  Beatification is, shall we say, far off.  But the story is still noteworthy.   

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Here's the Times on Wilde: "In life, he was about as likely a Catholic hero as Pontius Pilate. Now, more than a century after his death, Oscar Wilde has been claimed by The Vatican as one of its own.  Wilde, who died in 1900 after finding God and converting to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed, has long been regarded by the Vatican as a dissolute homosexual who was sentenced and imprisoned for acts of gross indecency over his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas.  However in a review of a new study, The Portrait of Oscar Wilde by the Italian writer Paolo Gulisano,L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said that Wilde was much more than 'an aesthete and a lover of the ephemeral.'  He had been 'one of the personalities of the 19th century who most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects,' the review said."  The full story is here.

But the best part of the Times piece is the marvelously puckish title, "You will, Benedict, you will," a sly nod to an incident in which the famous wit did not get the last word.  To the artist James McNeill Whistler, who had uttered some amusing sally, Wilde said, "I wish I had said that."  Whistler replied, "You will, Oscar, you will!"  Running a distant second in the Wildean headline sweepstakes was Il Giornale's "The Importance of Being Catholic." 

Overall, I would suspect that Wilde would have been pleased about the buzz surrounding the new book.  After all, as he said, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

James Martin, SJ

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9 years 3 months ago
Ain't it great we Catholics can speak so well of the dead? I was raised on the theology of Last Rites for assassinated Dutch Schultz [ Jewish Gangster] .. left us with hope that even with the last breath there is salvation..
9 years 3 months ago
Though it would be more accurate to say that Oscar Wilde embraced the Catholic Church - though secular reporters aren't too happy about that face. The fact that Oscar Wilde struggled and gave in to his same-sex attractions during his life does not make him the homosexual hero the modern homosexual activist movement would like him to be.  The morality of so much of what he wrote is quite striking and certainly not in a relativistic way.  Especially the Selfish Giant, but it was a common thread in his works.  What a masterful writer he was both in his books and plays.
What is quite interesting - though not to the modern press - is that in his period of time the writers known as the decadents of which Wilde was included were not immune in the least into returning or joining Holy Mother Church.  Quite a few of these writers did just that.  Joseph Pearce has done a good job of chronicling some of this along with his book on Oscar Wilde.
9 years 3 months ago

Contra Jeffrey Miller, Joseph Pearce's book on Oscar Wilde is not only poorly written, it is poorly researched.  The author attempts to "prove" that Wilde was a conservative Catholic (albeit with a much more impressive mustache than Mr. Miller) without A SINGLE FOOTNOTE.  That's right-a full-length book without a single citation from another author.  .

9 years 3 months ago
I agree that the Joe Pearce book isn't the best if making an academic argument. The premise, however, that the Church with which Wilde had a deep, abiding affair most of his life was, in his mind a deeply conservative one. We don't need footnotes for that as it's readily available info (it's in his letters, for example).
9 years 3 months ago
One does not have to endorse or even accept homosexuality without seeing that hard labor for being homosexual in either orientation or action was a grave injustice.  Persecuting homosexuals, like persecuting Christians in the Roman empire, mere makes their cause sympathetic and the persecutor look bad in the eyes of both the faithful and God.
9 years 3 months ago
Oscar Wilde spoke in an interview before he died and asked by the Journalist why he was converting to Catholicism he said that "I should have converted sooner ,the fragrance of its teachings could have cured my degeneracies" then asked why he chose the Roman church he said  "the roman church is for saints and sinners alone ,everybody else can go to the Anglican Church" that more or less tells you about the symbosis between Mr Wilde and The Vatican ,you could say he was of the "courage "persuasion and felt that "dignity" required a change!!!! 

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