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Was a Would-Be Saint Gay?
19th century Anglican convert Cardinal John Henry Newman, arguably the greatest Catholic thinker from the English-speaking world, moving ever closer to sainthood, trouble is brewing over where his final resting place should be.
The London-born historian and theologian died in 1890 and, following the instructions in his will, was buried beside his lifelong friend and fellow convert Ambrose St. John, who had died 15 years earlier. Newman's deep expressions of grief after St. John's death, along with other writings, have led some historians to ask whether the two men, who lived together for many years, lived much like common-law spouses.
Newman, whose ideas on conscience and faith have influenced Christian theology ever since, is expected to be beatified next year following the Vatican's recent certification of a Newman miracle — when a Boston man's cure from a crippling spinal disease could not be explained medically. The final step of canonization — full Sainthood — will require proof of an additional miracle achieved through the intercession of Newman's spirit.
The Vatican announced plans this month to move Newman's remains from a small gravesite in the central English town of Rednal to a specially built sarcophagus in the Oratory Church of Birmingham, where, officials say, they will be more accessible for venerating faithful.
British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell sees ulterior motives in exhuming the Cardinal: "embarrassment" because of his relationship with St. John. "They were inseparable, they lived together for half a century, effectively like husband and wife," says Tatchell. "There were repeated allegations during [Newman's] lifetime about his circle of homosexual friends.
It is uncertain whether their relationship involved sex. It is quite likely that both men had a gay orientation but chose to abstain from sexual relations. But abstinence does not alter a person's sexual orientation." Tatchell says that the two men's bond, and Newman's abiding wish to have his final resting place next to St. John's, make separating their remains "an act of dishonesty and betrayal by the homophobes in the Vatican."
The brouhaha over Newman's burial place can also be seen as fallout from an increasingly hard line against homosexuality taken by traditionalist Catholic Church leaders. Before rising to the papacy, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger signed a Vatican document that said gay people have a "disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent." Since his election, Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly condemned gay marriage and said that no one should be admitted to the seminary who has deep-rooted homosexual tendencies.
Benedict, himself one of the top theologians of the modern era, was a student of Newman's writings.
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