For any English Catholic, the figure of Cardinal Newman looms large. An intellectual giant, a convert from Anglicanism, he is one of the greats - and now on his way to canonization. But Newman also had one great love in his life, Ambrose St John. When St John died in 1875, Newman wrote:
"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 any one's sorrow greater, than mine."
Newman and St John lived together, loved one another and even left express wishes that they be buried together. And so they were, with the tombstone etched with these immortal and elliptical words:
"Out of shadows and phantasms into the Truth"
Whether this shared burial was a function of a deep intimacy or of a homosexual relationship in the late
nineteenth century sense we do not know. But we do know that the Oxford Movement was, to put mildly, high camp as well as high church, and that Newman, like the current Pontiff, was an effeminate, delicate intellectual who had almost no real interaction with women at all and bonded mainly with younger men. St John was one such man, and Newman's and St John's deepest wishes were to be buried together for ever.
Now, the Vatican, nervous that this joint burial might raise questions about Newman, and always eager to insist that gay men, even celibate ones, cannot be saints any more than they can now be seminarians, is actually exhuming Newman's body and reburying it sans St John. Reburying saints is not unknown, but violating such a core last wish of this great man is definitely suspicious. They could exhume St John too and re-bury both together, respecting their clear wishes, but that would be off-message for the now pathologically homophobic Vatican.
Benedict does, however, have the wit of a gay man of the old school. When pressed a year ago by Cherie Blair to hurry up Newman's canonization, Benedict apparently lamented that the church needed one more miracle to be attributed to Newman for it to proceed. "It is taking some time" his Holiness told Blair. "Miracles are hard to come by in Britain."
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