Cardinal Newman.jpgCardinal John Henry Newman is, in death, and like Saint Paul in life, all things to all people. I am a great fan. But those who might see themselves as my polar opposite–say, the watchdogs of the Cardinal Newman Society–also embrace him. Do they exploit him? Or do I?

In today’s Boston Globe (now apparently spared from demise, thank goodness), my favorite saint-explainer, Father Jim Martin, SJ, has a column, “Whose saint is John Henry Newman?” As Father Martin notes, Newman can be cast as a friend of Traditionalists, progressives, anti-clericalists and, as I wrote here, gays

Because of his protean mind and voluminous writings, then, he is beloved by groups that are often at loggerheads. More traditional Catholics admire Newman’s elegant apologias for Catholicism. Progressives embrace his work on conscience and the “development of doctrine,” the idea that church belief on some matters can change over time – for the better. And ironically, many Catholics suspicious of clericalism often quote this prince of the church, who once quipped about the laity, “[T]he church would look foolish without them.” Indeed, one of his most famous articles was called “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.”

The greatest controversy over the soon-to-be-saint, however, may be his intense relationship with his long-time friend Ambrose St. John. “As far as this world was concerned, I was his first and last…he was my earthly light,” wrote Newman. Before his death in 1890, Newman made an unusual and strongly worded request. “I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St. John’s grave – and I give this as my last, my imperative will,” he wrote. As a result, he is beloved among some in the gay community, who often claim him as one of their own.

So is the real Newman? Find out here

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