Violating Cardinal Newman's Wishes
The Pope wants to rebury John Newman separate from the man he loved, Father Ambrose St John.
The Vatican plans to exhume and rebury Cardinal John Henry Newman in a new tomb in Birmingham Oratory church, in preparation for him being made a saint later this year.
The Vatican is embarrassed that Newman is currently buried in the same grave as the man he shared much of his life with, Father Ambrose St John. Although inseparable in life and buried together for 118 years, the Catholic Church wants to now tear them apart.
Newman and St John have been buried side-by-side in a simple grave since Newman's death in 1890. It was what Newman wanted. He wrote to his executors shortly before his death stating emphatically: "I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Father Ambrose St John's grave - and I give this as my last, my imperative will."
Despite this categorical instruction, the Vatican is now overturning it.
Where is the ethical justification for this desecration? Who gave the Catholic Church permission to defy Newman's solemn request?
Pope Benedict XVI has no right, and no moral or legal authority, to violate the Cardinal's wishes.
I suspect that most lay Catholics do not approve of the Vatican's antics. All my Catholic friends are horrified; believing that these reburial plans are offensive and insensitive.
Ask yourself: how would you feel if this was happening to your partner or a member of your family? Appalled and distressed, I suspect.
I am sure most people would not want something like this to happen to their deceased loved ones. We would not accept the Vatican (or anyone else) reburying our dearest against their wishes.
This seems to be the view of many Christians. A recent Church Times online poll found that 82% were opposed to the separation of Newman from St John and his reburial elsewhere.
To be blunt: homophobia is at the root of the Vatican's sordid scheme.
I have been tipped off by an insider high up within the Catholic Church. He, too, is appalled; confiding to me that the bid to move the Cardinal's body is all about burying any hint that he might have been gay and been in love with St John.
This homophobic motive is entirely plausible, given the Vatican's long-standing cover up of its many past and present gay priests, bishops, cardinals and popes. The church has a well-known anti-gay agenda. It is too bigoted to concede that one it's revered cardinals, and a future saint, might have loved a man.
Newman was, of course, unaware that he might one day achieve sainthood. But he was mindful that the church might, after his death, seek to intervene in determining the placement of his remains. Although a modest man, he was conscious of his international status as a Cardinal and an esteemed Catholic theologian. He feared there might be attempts after he died to transfer his body to a mausoleum. That is why Newman three times added notes to his instructions to his executors which, according to the scholarship of the Christian historian Alan Bray, variously "confirm", "insist" and "command" that he be buried with St John.
Nothing could be clearer. Newman was absolutely insistent that should be buried forever alongside the man with whom he shared his life and home.
No Catholic tradition, dogma or ritual about cardinals and saints can justify the Vatican's heartless, self-serving decision to violate Newman's categorical, unambiguous instructions. No one gave the Pope permission to defy the Cardinal's wishes. It is an act of shameless dishonesty and personal betrayal by the homophobic Catholic Church.
The Vatican spin doctors have gone out of their way to rubbish claims that Newman was gay. He was a Cardinal and deeply devout, they say, claiming such a person would never have a gay relationship. This is nonsense. Thousands of Catholic priests, and even some Bishops and Cardinals, are gay and have active same-sex relationships.
The Catholic hierarchy denies the Newman's homosexuality in the same
way that it denies the existence of these thousands of gay clerics and in the same way that it has attempted to cover up child abuse by thousands of paedophile priests. Homosexuality and paedophilia are not, of course, the same thing. They are different. But I make this point to highlight the Catholic leadership's tradition of dishonesty and cover-ups.
The Vatican is well known for lying and suppressing the truth. It lied, for example, in its anti-safe sex propaganda which claimed that condoms have tiny holes through which the HIV virus can pass.
The lies and denials about Newman should be treated with the same contempt.
Although we cannot know for certain, it is not unreasonable to believe that Cardinal Newman might have had a loving, stable, long-term same-sex relationship. The passion of his letters and writings about Ambrose suggest this possibility.
Down the ages, lots of clergy have had gay relationships. Indeed, about one-quarter of the current Catholic priesthood is estimated to be gay. Why should anyone be surprised by the suggestion that Cardinal Newman might have had a same-sex relationship? It would not be extraordinary. It is fairly normal in the priesthood.
There is little doubt that Newman and St John were mentally and spiritually in love; sharing a long-term same-sex relationship. They were inseparable. They lived together for over 30 years, like a married husband and wife.
Newman wrote in his diary about Ambrose's love for him: "From the first he loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable." He later added: "As far as this world was concerned, I was his first and last.'"
Newman also stated that St John had come to him as the angel Raphael came to Tobias, as Ruth to Naomi.
Reflecting on St John's death, Newman stated: "This is the greatest affliction I have had in my life...he was my earthly light."
The Cardinal was not exactly macho. His soft, gentle, effeminate demeanour is typical of what we often associate with some gay men (and some straight men too). There were allegations during his lifetime about his circle of young homosexual friends. Platonic relations and close friendships with women did not feature at all in his life.
It is impossible to know whether the relationship between Newman and St John involved sexual relations. Equally, it is impossible to know that they did not.
To be fair and to err on the side of caution, it is likely that both men had a gay orientation but chose to abstain from sex. Sexual abstinence does not, however, alter a person's orientation. A person can be gay and sublimate their gayness into spiritual and other non-sexual relations and pursuits.
Perhaps we should also look to Newman's memorial stone at Birmingham Oratory for clues. It has an inscription that could be read as a posthumous coming out concerning their relationship:
'Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem' (from shadow and images into truth)