Saint John Henry Newman?

The cause of Cardinal Newman advanced further this week with the acceptance by the Holy See of a miracle attributed to him.  (He was declared “Venerable” in 1991, and will be beatified next year, 2010.)

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Newman deserves particular attention from LGBT Catholics for two reasons:

As a man, he had a well known lifelong deep commitment to his friend, Ambrose St. John. This relationship was so intense that he particularly desired to be buried alongside his friend.  This became controversial among gay activists when, as part of the beatification process, the Vatican insisted on removing the remains of Newman, but not those of his friend, to the Birmingham Oratory.  In the event, the activists lost the battle, but gained smug satisfaction when the grave was found to contain no human remains. (Some advanced this a  further ‘miracle’ in support of his cause).

“An excavation of the Cardinal’s grave at the Oratory House in Rednal near Birmingham, last year revealed no human remains. It is believed his body, which was buried in a wooden coffin, had completely decomposed.

Newman was buried alongside his close friend – who some presume to have been his gay lover – Ambrose St John. But the Vatican wanted his remains to be moved to the Birmingham Oratory, in preparation for his beatification.” [The Independent]

Many people object to the description of Newman as ‘gay’ on the grounds that there is no evidence that the deep friendship with St John took sexual expression.  This is irrelevant:  all priests are underr a vow of celibacy.  Many, whether gay or straight, keep their vow, some do not. The adherence or otherwise to the vow does not affect or determine their underlying orientation.  (We do not claim that celibate priests are thereby not heterosexual).

As a theologian, Cardinal Newman played an important role in developing the modern formulation of the primacy of conscience, which is of fundamental importance to LGBT Catholics who reject in good conscience the standard teaching on sexuality – or the high proportion of heterosexual couples who reject “Humanae Vitae”.

The venerable, soon to be Blessed, John Henry has a strong claim to be regarded as a patron saint of English gay Catholics.

(For more on the cause, see Newman Cause :  but note once again how LGBT history is simply airbrushed out.  Newman viewed his relationship to Ambrose St John as so important that he insisted theey be buried “for all eternity” in the same grave, but the short biography on the cause website simply igonres the relationship.)


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