Pope Benedict XVI beatified 19th century churchman Cardinal John Henry Newman over the weekend, the third of four steps to be made before his canonization as a saint. However, some claim that Newman — considered a liberal Catholic who questioned papal infallibility — enjoyed a close relationship with a priest named Ambrose St. John, a friendship some suspect to have been homosexual. The pair were buried in the same grave, and Newman wrote movingly of his love for St. John. How compelling — and relevant — is the evidence that Newman was gay? (Watch the pope's message)
Newman may not have realized it, but he was gay: Newman's "intense relationship" with Ambrose St. John is an example of the love that dare not speak its name, says gay rights advocate Peter Tatchell, quoted at Politics Daily. These men lived in a time when there was "no conception of the possibility of same-sex love." Even if their relationship was ostensibly platonic, it expressed a "latent homosexuality which never found physical expression."
"Pope Benedict to beatify a gay saint? A conservative icon? Maybe both."
A liberal, perhaps. But a homosexual? Never: Newman may have been a "moderate liberal," says Newman biographer Father Ian Ker in The Times, but that doesn't make him gay. The only evidence for this insinuation is the two men's shared grave. But for Newman to request that out of homosexual desire would have been unthinkable at the time. The two simply shared a chaste, loving male friendship.
"Newman's biographer on his subject's orthodoxy and sexuality"
Don't be distracted by questions about Newman's sexuality: It doesn't matter whether or not Newman was gay, says John Cornwell in the Financial Times. What matters is how he has been "pontifically hijacked." The church has recast a "man who has an iconic stature for liberal Catholic intellectuals" as an "exemplar of unquestioning papal allegiance." This skewing of the truth is "like saying that Churchill had been a Trotskyite all along."
"The papal hijacking of Cardinal Newman"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- Save the world... by changing how you pee
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- 10 things you need to know today: September 21, 2014
- How U2 became the new Nickelback
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
Subscribe to the Week