Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cardinal's body exhumed to 'bury gay past'

PLANS to bestow sainthood on one of the most influential Catholics in English history, Cardinal John Newman, have triggered an unholy row over claims that he was gay.

The Vatican has already ordered that the 19th century cardinal's body should be moved from a quiet graveyard on the edge of Birmingham to a grand sarcophagus in the city's Oratory Church so that pilgrims can more easily pay homage to a man who is expected to be beatified next year.

But gay rights campaigners claim the exhumation is actually motivated by the church's embarrassment that Newman has for the past century shared a headstone and burial site with his close male companion of many years, fellow priest Ambrose St John.

Australian-born gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said yesterday that "the reburial has only one aim: to cover up Newman's homosexuality and to disavow his love for another man.

"It is an act of shameless dishonesty and personal betrayal by the gay-hating Vatican," he said.

Cardinal Newman, who shared a house with Father St John for more than three decades, demanded in his will and insisted several times later that he wanted to be buried beside his colleague.

In his will, he stated: "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."

When Father St John, who was 14 years his junior, died in 1875, Newman compared his own grief to that of a husband's for a wife.

"I have ever thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband's or a wife's, but I feel it difficult to believe that any can be greater, or anyone's sorrow greater, than mine," he wrote.

Mr Tatchell yesterday said that "nothing can justify the Vatican's decision to violate Newman's categorical and often-stated instructions that he be buried alongside Ambrose. No one gave the Pope permission to defy Newman's wishes".

"They were inseparable. They lived together for over 30 years, like husband and wife. Newman was not exactly macho. His softer, gentler demeanour is what we associate with a gay man and there were allegations during his lifetime about his circle of homosexual friends."

Church officials deny that Newman, who died in 1890, was gay and say it is normal practice to ensure that a saint's grave is easily accessible to worshippers who may, for instance, want to light a candle beside his sarcophagus.

Father Ian Ker, a priest and biographer of Cardinal Newman, told The Weekend Australian yesterday that Newman "clearly did love his dear friend" but that it was ridiculous to claim a century later that they were gay.

"There is no evidence for that whatsoever, and everything he (Newman) wrote and said suggests he would have thought homosexuality was immoral, not to mention that it was illegal at the time.

"Theirs was a close friendship that some people are now trying to misrepresent and use for their own purposes."

Newman is a towering figure in the Catholic Church's history in Britain and its most significant convert from the Church of England.

He led theological debates for much of the 19th Century and influenced many Anglicans to follow him and Father St John in converting to Catholicism. The two men were both Church of England ministers who became Catholic priests in the Victorian era when Catholics faced heavy discrimination in Britain.

Newman now has several colleges and religious societies named after him and Pope Benedict XVI, one of his long-term admirers, is next year expected to oversee his beatification, one step short of sainthood.

According to Mr Tatchell, the two men"were almost certainly gay by orientation but perhaps not by sexual relationship".

"They clearly had a loving, long-term same-sex relationship. It is impossible to know whether this relationship involved sex (but) abstinence does not alter a person's sexual orientation."

Mr Tatchell claimed there may even be a "posthumous coming out" in the inscription on the gravestone shared by the priests, which says in Latin: "From shadows and images into the truth."

Father Ker, who lectures at Oxford University about Newman's life, said Mr Tatchell's interpretation was ridiculous.

"What the inscription means is that in death he was moving out of the unreality of this world into the true reality of eternal life."

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(Source: The Australian)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read on another website that Cardinal Newman's body could not be exhumed after all, that when they tried the body had already decomposed to nothing but soil. Is this story true?