From Damian Thompson:
‘Papal bull: Why Cardinal Newman is no saint,’ says Sunday Times. When is this going to stop?
By Damian Thompson Religion Last updated: May 9th, 2010
Is there no end to the malevolence of sections of the media towards the Holy Father and the Catholic Church? The Sunday Times is a secular paper and does not recognise the concept of Catholic miracles or saints. Fair enough. John Cornwell is perfectly entitled to argue that the healing of Deacon Jack Sullivan from acute back pain is the result of the placebo effect rather than divine intervention. [This is the same doofus who wrote Hitler’s Pope…. Just to give you some context.] Sullivan is the retired American court official whose supposed cure will enable Pope Benedict XVI to beatify John Henry Newman when he visits England in September. I’ve met Jack, heard him describe the relief of his pain, and – I have to be honest – wondered myself whether it was all that out of the ordinary. But why the nastiness?
The article is a typical Cornwell hit job, accusing traditionalists of hijacking Newman and then going on to do the same thing from a liberal standpoint, turning Benedict XVI into a sinister figure “bent on sanitising Newman’s progressive Catholicism” and Newman into a “dissident”. I suppose we should expect no better from a man who labelled Pius XII “Hitler’s Pope”. But papal bull? How long is this campaign going to go on?
John Cornwell is a sensationalist hack, but he has a caché that I have NEVER understood. Newman is a way out of the Church’s crisis. He was an astounding man. But we shouldn’t forget Manning. We, the children of the world need to be Newman-like by times and Manning-like by times.
Church factions in theological battle for soul of Cardinal Newman
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
On the surface, all is Christian love and fellowship. But beneath the surface rages a theological battle for the soul of Cardinal John Henry Newman and of the Roman Catholic Church itself.
At the high point of his four-day state visit to Britain in September, the Pope will preside at the beatification of Newman, putting him on course to become England’s first non-martyr saint since the Reformation.
On one side of the pulpit are modernising liberals. On the other are the Ultramontane-style conservatives who reject any compromise with modern society. Newman is considered a personal hero of Pope Benedict, who has studied his writings. He is also revered by many Anglicans: he was, after all, a convert to Catholicism.
Jack Valero, of the conservative Opus Dei group, who is in charge of publicity for the beatification, said that Newman was the “hero” of all types of Catholics and many Anglicans.
Insulted Pope advisers ‘regretting’ UK state visit
Cardinal Newman moves closer to sainthood
Roman Catholic conservatives hail Newman as one of them because of what they see as his attachment to dogma and tradition and his criticisms of liberalism and relativism. They are passionate about the Tridentine Latin Mass; they endorse papal infallibility and resist any latitude on issues such as celibacy and contraception.
Yet liberals say that Newman is one of them because he gave primacy to conscience, even saying famously that he would drink a toast “to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards”.
The gay community also claim Newman as one of their own because he was buried with his lifelong companion Father Ambrose St John. Of Father Ambrose, Newman wrote: “From the first he loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable.” He later added: “As far as this world was concerned, I was his first and last . . . he was my earthly light.’” Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, has criticised attempts to portray Newman as a celibate heterosexual. Tatchell said: “Many of these platonic relationships were, in fact, expressions of latent homosexuality which never found physical expression because the men concerned lived in a homophobic culture where they either had no conception of the possibility of same-sex love or, for religious reasons, dared not express this love sexually.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has been invited to attend the beatification ceremony at Coventry airport in September to elevate the Church of England’s most famous convert to Roman Catholicism.
Dr Williams has not yet decided whether he will go, and his office said yesterday that he may send a representative. The Archbishop is faced with his own Newman-style troubles. As the General Synod prepares to debate legislation in July to allow women bishops, he is facing contemporary conversions to Rome by three Anglo-Catholic bishops and their retinues of clergy and laity under the new ordinariate structure begun by the Pope for disaffected Anglicans.
Next week, the Pope will be accused by the author John Cornwell of attempting to hijack the legacy of Cardinal Newman to prop up the conservative Catholic cause. Cornwell is a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and a former seminarian who wrote Hitler’s Pope, a critique of the leadership of Pope Pius XII during the Nazi era, In a new book, Newman’s Unquiet Grave, Cornwell argues that the “Catholic pin-up boy” would have regarded his sainthood an “ossifying tragedy”.
Cornwell also accuses the Pope of “distorting” Newman. “He is trying to draw people towards his vision of a magisterial Church dominated by the Vatican and the papacy. He is turning Newman on his head, as if Newman really meant loyalty to the Pope came first and conscience second.”
But Mr Valero said: “This is really a picture of what the Church is like today. It is a battle about what the Church is and how it should work. The Pope is trying to bring all these people together under Newman. The Pope is supposed to be the man who unites the Church.”
After beatification, but before Newman can be canonised, evidence is required of another miracle through his intercession. If the factions scrapping over his legacy make peace, that might just be the miracle required.
Life and tracts for the times
• Born in 1801 Cardinal Newman made an enduring mark on the Church of England by helping to establish the Oxford Movement, an attempt to restore it to its Catholic roots
• He attended Great Ealing School in London, where he preferred the Bible to sport. The titular King of France, Louis-Philippe, taught maths and geography there while in exile in the early 19th century
• Newman became a Calvinist after his father’s bank went under in the financial crash of 1816
• He went to Trinity, Oxford, became a Fellow of Oriel and was ordained into the Church of England in 1824
• He wrote a series of influential essays, Tracts for the Times. Members of his movement were known as Tractarians
• Newman was received into the Catholic Church in 1845 and ordained a priest in Rome
• He wrote thousands of letters, reams of sermons, essays, books and poetry, and an autobiographical novel. Idea of a University is studied by educators today. His autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, published in 1864, is still regarded as a spiritual classic
•Newman wrote: “I have no tendency to be a saint — it is a sad thing to say so. Saints are not literary men”
• It is said to be impossible to understand 19th-century Britain, or indeed the Church of England or Catholic Church as it was then or is in England today, without some knowledge of Newman
• He died in 1890 and was declared “venerable” in 1991, the first step towards sainthood
I am reminded of the famous vision of St. John Bosco of a future battle between the church and her enemies, in which books, pamphlets and presumably newspapers were among the weapons launched at the Pope’s fleet at sea.
From The Sunday Times May 9, 2010
Why Cardinal Newman is no saint
The Catholic Church plans to make Cardinal Newman a saint when the Pope comes to Britain. A private Vatican document supposedly proves he was responsible for a miracle of healing. It shows no such thing
Pope Benedict XVI is due to visit England in September
Not so long ago, a rare kind of book came into my hands: a Vatican investigation into an alleged supernatural event. It is sumptuously bound in scarlet cloth, and the gilt- lettered title proclaims in Latin: “Positio Super Miro” (”A Statement on the Miracle”). This volume, running to 240 pages, contains the final judgment of a panel known as the Consulta Medica (more popularly, “the Miracle Police”) into the supernatural claims of one Jack Sullivan, an elderly American deacon, formerly a court official in Massachusetts. Sullivan is convinced that he was cured nine years ago of a severe spinal condition as a result of praying to Cardinal John Henry Newman, a Victorian convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism who died in 1890. Only after the Pope pronounces that a healing is indeed a miracle can a positio be read outside the bureaucratic circles of the saint-makers in Rome. The Pope recently ratified Sullivan’s healing as an authentic supernatural event, so the positio on his case has just been made available to a handful of bona-fide researchers with a specialist interest in Newman. Copies will be kept in the Vatican library and at Newman’s oratory in Birmingham.
This is a story of how the Catholic Church makes saints, how popes authenticate miracles, and how a volatile mix of science and the supernatural could upset an imminent papal visit. Pope Benedict is coming to Britain to perform a religious ceremony known as a beatification. On Saturday, September 18, in the presence of a vast congregation at Coventry airport, he will decree Cardinal Newman to be a “blessed” (the final stage to full sainthood). This makes it official that he was a man of heroic holiness who went straight to heaven, and has scope to intercede with God to perform miracles for those who petition him on Earth. It is an honour to which Newman himself never aspired. Indeed he was strongly opposed to the notion of his own beatification.
Newman shocked the Anglican world when he abandoned his church in 1845 to embrace what Protestants called “the Whore of Babylon” — the Church of Rome. His autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua (An Apology for His Life), is a spiritual classic. He is celebrated throughout the English-speaking world, and especially North America, as the greatest Catholic thinker of modern times.
According to Vatican saint-making rules, the person to be beatified, or made a “blessed”, must literally prove his or her influence with God by persuading the Almighty to perform just one “testable” miracle. The positiones contain all the scientific evidence for the “inexplicable” nature of the miracle, and the Pope bases his verdict on their findings. But a close study of the Sullivan positio reveals that the Pope has not adhered to the Vatican’s own strict standards for validating miracles. The evidence for Sullivan’s miracle also contradicts the opinions of at least three leading medical specialists: the consultant neurosurgeons Michael Powell of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London and Helen Fernandez of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge; and the clinical psychologist Professor Irving Kirsch of Hull University, who studies placebo effects.
When Benedict XVI arrives in Britain in September, groups of activists are set to voice a catalogue of anti-papal grievances, including his perceived interference in Britain’s equality laws, and his attempt to woo Anglican priests en masse from the Church of England. Gay activists have vowed to protest against his condemnation of homosexuality, while there is talk of a “legal ambush” to arrest him for alleged cover-ups of priestly paedophiles. During the election campaign, the leaders of Britain’s three main parties all disagreed with the Pope on homosexuality, contraception and human embryonic stem-cell research. And now Benedict’s visit — of which the beatification of Newman was to be the central focus — looks bound for a theological as well as political storm.
The positio tells the story of Newman’s miracle with ample quotes from interviews with Sullivan and his doctors. On June 6, 2000, Jack Sullivan, a 61-year-old resident of Marshfield, near Boston, suffered severe pain in his lower back. A scan revealed deformities to vertebrae in the lumbar area. His spine was herniated, causing severe stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal and compression of nerves in the lower back). The vertebrae and discs were depressed inward so as to intrude on the spinal canal, squeezing his spinal cord and femoral nerves.
Sullivan was studying, late in his life, to become a Catholic minister: a deacon, the stage below full priesthood. Without relief from the pain, he could not have continued his courses. On June 26, he was watching a Catholic TV programme on Cardinal Newman. Viewers were asked to write in if they believed they had received any “divine favours or extraordinary experiences” resulting from their prayers to Newman. Sullivan told the Miracle Police: “I then felt a strong compulsion to pray to Cardinal Newman with all my heart.”
Next morning, the pain had gone, and he could walk upright without difficulty. “The joy of that first moment filled my heart with gratitude for Cardinal Newman’s intercession with God,” he recollected. However, on examination, it was discovered that the underlying physiological condition had not been cured. He was referred to a Dr Robert Banco, a spinal-cord surgeon, who advised a “wait and see” policy. Sullivan continued his studies for 10 pain-free months. But the pain returned in May 2001, and Banco recommended a laminectomy (surgery to relieve pressure on nerves in the spine) which was successfully performed on August 9. The doctor explained that the lower spine had been badly ruptured and there was significant tearing of the dura mater (the membrane surrounding the spinal cord and housing protective fluids). The fluids had leaked out, causing the protruding bony areas to rub against the spinal cord. Banco told the Vatican investigators that he believed it a “miracle itself” that Sullivan had been pain-free for the earlier 10-month period and that he had been capable of walking. He told Sullivan: “I have absolutely no medical explanation to give you as to why your pain stopped. The MRI and subsequent surgery bear out the severity of your condition… If you want an answer, ask God.” Dr Banco is a Catholic.
After the operation, Sullivan was in great pain and unable to walk. Recovery, even from a successful operation, can take time — according to experts, from a few days to a few months. Six days after the operation, he prayed again to Cardinal Newman. “I felt a very warm sensation all over my body,” he recalls, “and a sense of real peace and joy came over me… Then I felt a surge of strength and confidence that I could finally walk.”
As of this month, May 2010, he has had no recurrence of pain and walks normally.
Dr Banco has testified that Sullivan’s recovery was “unbelievable, 100%, totally remarkable!” “I have never seen a healing process occur so quickly and completely.” Sullivan says that his surgeon had told him the pain and difficulty with walking could have lasted three months or more. Banco wrote to Sullivan: “I have been in practice for 15 years and have seen many cases similar to your case. I have treated probably over 1,500 patients with spinal stenosis. Your lack of pain pre-operatively for that time period as well as your postoperative recovery were truly miraculous, in my opinion.”
In its conclusions, the positio enters the realms of astonishingly arcane medieval language and mindset. A miracle may involve the suspension of nature in one of three ways: by means of the substance, quoad substantiam, such as a raising from the dead; or from the fact, quoad subiectum, such as a reconstitution of organs (”restitutio in integrum”); or, as the positio proclaims, by matter of degree, quoad modum. Which means that the Vatican medical panel is insisting that Sullivan recovered more speedily from the operation than was expected. Finally (in Italian): “The judgment of non-explainability refers exclusively to the immediate recovery of postoperative function, absolutely not foreseen in the specific case.”
Beyond the stilted language, however, lie sacrosanct criteria. Professor Franco De Rosa, an internal-medicine specialist at Rome University’s medical school, has advised the Vatican as a member of the Consulta Medica for many years. He told me that anything smacking of “autosuggestion, hypnosis, psychology” is immediately discarded. “As soon as a case comes before us,” he said, “I do a Medline search, a worldwide internet survey of the latest articles on the specific disease or trauma, to establish the prognosis, potential treatment, citations of remission. If the cure clearly defies the explanations of current medical science, and there is no history of remission, then we deem it inexplicable.” He set out the strict, non-negotiable criteria for inexplicability. “It must be a serious problem, obviously,” he told me, “not something trivial. And we have to be satisfied that effective treatment has not been applied. We have to be convinced that the cure is sudden, or at least a matter of a few days or weeks rather than months or years. Finally, we have to know that the cure is permanent: that there has been no relapse.”
The relief of pain in June 2000 was not permanent, and so forms no part of the miracle claim, however inexplicable Sullivan’s personal specialist thought it to be. As we have seen, the underlying physical condition, his stenosis, was rectified by the laminectomy operation of August 2001. The potentially “miraculous” aspect of the case, then, as the conclusion to the positio acknowledges, was the speedy relief of pain after the operation. Yet the strict rules as explained by Professor De Rosa insist that any claim involving an “effective treatment” — which would include a laminectomy — be dismissed out of hand.
Totally absent from the investigators’ notes in the positio, moreover, is an independent expert view remote from the supernatural and the Vatican ambit. Since Sullivan’s case hinges on relief of his pain and return of function within nine days of the operation, I consulted three appropriate leading clinical figures in the fields of laminectomy surgery and pain relief, providing them with detailed abstracts of the material in the positio.
Since 1985, Mr Michael Powell has been consultant neurosurgeon at University College Hospital and the National, Queen Square, in London. He is also chairman of Britain’s Specialist Advisory Committee in Neurosurgery. “The complications this man suffered from,” he informed me, “are classic, but generally relatively infrequent. They include tearing the dura mater, membrane, which is the watertight sheath around the spine and brain, which leads to a leak of spinal fluid from the wound, and of course nerve damage from direct trauma to the nerve roots by surgical instruments. Fortunately, complete paralysis, which can occur from retained blood clots and so forth, is extremely rare.” The “lumbar canal stenosis” which was the problem, he went on, “is a commonly treated neurosurgical condition.” It results in pain in the legs when walking and standing and, unusually, when at rest as well. “It is caused by degeneration in the intervertebral discs and facet joints, typically at lumbar levels 4-5 and to a lesser extent, but still commonly, at 3-4.”
Laminectomy, or lumbar decompressive surgery, is an operation, according to Powell, “that we start our surgical trainees on, as it is essentially quite easy and has a good outcome in the majority of cases.” He adds that “we would hardly start our trainees on it if it were difficult, and most UK neurosurgical trainees at certification at the end of training have done in the region of 70 to 80 such cases”.
Mr Powell claimed that the operation usually takes him “about 40 minutes, and most patients, even my most recent, who is aged 88, walk out happy at two days… There are many excellent surgeons in the US, but for the majority, speed is not essential, unlike in the good old NHS”.
On the sudden relief of pre-operative and postoperative pain, Powell noted that “since the capacity of the spinal canal can be increased by simple measures, such as forward curving of the spine which is achieved by… bending over a supermarket shopping trolley or good physiotherapy, relief can be fairly quick from these conservative means”. He argued that relieving a patient of tension could easily have the same effect: “I have certainly seen patients with appalling MRIs have complete relief for a significant period from a variety of unusual measures — relaxing holidays in warm places can work wonders.” Although he declined to comment on the effect of prayer, his remarks indicate that relaxation and easing of tension, which often result from prayer and meditation, could explain Sullivan’s sudden release from pain both pre-operatively and postoperatively.
Professor Irving Kirsch, a clinical psychologist at Hull University, has studied placebo effects in thousands of clinical trials over the past two decades. He argues that “blocking pain despite continued physical pathology does seem more like a placebo effect than a miracle”. This would certainly explain Sullivan’s alleviation of pain in both 2000 and 2001. As can be found on many specialist medical sites, including Medline, there is a huge literature on nerve-pain remission through self-hypnosis, relaxation and altered states of mind. “For generations, beginning in the mid-19th century, the ability to block pain with hypnosis,” he says, “is even seen where surgery has been performed with no anaesthetic except the suggestion that no pain will be felt.”
Mrs Fernandez, consultant neurosurgeon at Addenbrooke’s teaching hospital in Cambridge, comments: “Spinal stenosis is a common condition I treat a lot. Spontaneous improvement, usually short-lived, is not uncommon. I have from time to time cancelled surgery in patients who have had an improvement in symptoms. They generally return some time later, but not always. Improvement is expected in 60-70% of patients, and if the result is good, patients often describe a ‘new lease of life’. Full recovery from surgery with full improvement can take some time.”
Powell has the final word on Sullivan’s recuperation just days after his operation. “Pain is subjective,” he insists. “A motivated patient will leave the next day on minimal analgesics, but a sufferer can refuse to mobilise and be in hospital for over a week. I had another patient recently who refused to get out of bed, and gobbled opiates prescribed by the acute pain team till she went unconscious, for exactly the same op as my motivated 88-year-old.” Asked if Sullivan’s relief might just possibly have been a miracle, he replied: “To us here [at this hospital], Sullivan’s story is not surprising, other than the claim of a miracle, that is. I am afraid I have had a good chuckle with spine surgeons here over that one.”
There are Catholics who fail to see the funny side of appropriating miracles to prove a person’s holiness. Clifford Longley, senior columnist and leader writer on the Catholic weekly The Tablet, is scathing: “The idea that God would demonstrate that a saint is truly in heaven by instantly healing someone’s fatal illness because he has been petitioned by the said saint — who is in turn responding to the petitions of the sufferer or those near to him — seems to me so simplistic, so credulous, so presumptuous, so mechanical and so manipulative, that it brings no credit to the Catholic religion and indeed confirms the worst prejudices of its enemies.”
Scientists argue that scientific explanations depend on current theories in science, which are valid only until falsified or proven otherwise. Highly placed Jesuits in Rome have long pressed the Vatican to abandon its quest for scientifically “tested” physical miracles and to look for “moral” and “spiritual” ones — the power of prayer to heal bereavement or cure an alcoholic or a drug-taker. They argue that it is more difficult to heal a hardened or broken heart than to cure a physical illness. But Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, John Paul II, is having none of it. The papal role as final adjudicator of the scientifically tested supernatural must stay.
Cardinal Newman would have vehemently opposed the popes on the issue. He argued that the faithful should be prepared to accept that miracles occur within nature, not outside it. He preached, in any case, that “nothing is gained by miracles, nothing comes of miracles, as regards our religious views, principles and habits. Hard as it is to believe, miracles certainly do not make men better”. The final irony is that Newman himself was utterly opposed to the idea of his own beatification. To thwart attempts to make a cult of his remains, he ordered that he be buried in a rich compost so that his corpse would decompose rapidly — an action that cheated the saint-makers. When the clerical gravediggers attempted an exhumation to retrieve his relics in October 2008, they found nothing except the coffin’s brass plate and handles.
Benedict and the traditionalist wing of Catholicism nevertheless claim Newman as a faithful supporter of the papal “magisterium” — pontifical dogmas on a raft of issues. When addressing Britain’s bishops three months ago, the Pope cited Newman as an enemy to Catholic dissidence in any shape or form. As the Pope prepares for his visit to the UK, he is clearly bent on sanitising Newman’s progressive Catholicism in preparation for the beatification. But Newman was certainly a dissident when it came to overbearing papal authority, creeping infallibility, the downgrading of the laity, the primacy of papal dogma over individual conscience. He wrote of an ageing pope: “He becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it.” If Newman is in heaven, as all Catholics surely believe, he is likely to be exerting his influence with the Almighty — not to produce miracles, but to stop his own transmogrification into an official plaster saint. He once wrote: “I have no tendency to be a saint — it is a sad thing to say so. Saints are not literary men…” Newman knew his own conscience, and he knew the difference between a saint and sinner. He was also secure in his priorities. “I shall drink to the Pope if you please,” he once wrote, “… still to conscience first and the Pope afterwards.” If Pope Benedict makes it to England in September, he is unlikely to preach to that text.
©John Cornwell. Newman’s Unquiet Grave: Portrait of a Reluctant Saint, by John Cornwell, is published by Continuum on May 31 at £18.99. It is available at the BooksFirst price of £17, including postage and packing. Tel: 0845 271 2135
Re: John Cornwell…
Three words….Consider the source.
He’s a loon.
“Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on…”
Indeed, Satan is at work. High time we started realizing this, as a people (not implying anyone that comes here DOESNT…speaking in generality)
I think conscience, “to know one’s self”, demands that we turn to Holy Mother Church, and to God. His representative to us, is the Pope, whoever he might be, for better or worse. I think when Newman mentions this, he is connecting the Dots. Our own conscience will eventually lead us to submittal to Rome, and the ONE church that Christ founded, just as it did with Newman. He was beaten down by History. I think he is the one who coined the phrase “To know History is to Cease being protestant” (though I may very well be wrong)
Put that in your pipe Cornwell, and smoke it :)
I believe that you’re right patrick_f. I read somewhere else that Newman coined that phrase.
Isn’t John Cornwell the author who wrote the book, “Like A Thief In The Night?” I remember reading this book while studying in the seminary (not part of the curriculum). It was an investigative reporter’s look into the circumstances surrounding the death of John Paul I, and it was actually quite good as I remember. Unfortunately, the work demonstrated the human side of the Vatican bureaucracy. Cornwell wrote the work instead of another which he had intended to write about Medjugorje. He was persuaded to write “Like a Thief in the Night” by the Communications director of the Vatican at the time, Archbishop Foley, to help counteract a conspiracy themed book on the death of John Paul I, “In the Name of God” written by David Yallop. Cornwell’s book was well done. I don’t believe I remember any serious criticism in the Catholic press to John Cornwell’s “Like a Thief in the Night”. I haven’t read his other works, but I wondered if anyone else read the book. I realize, however, it’s not really relevant to the thread of this blog.
So the Pope is “bent on sanitising Newman’s progressive Catholicism.” This would be the same Newman who on accepting his red cap announced his unremitting hostility to “liberalism in religion.”
Certainly Newman was seen by some in his day as…not sufficiently dogmatic. But consider the context! The 19th century was one of the most conservative in the Church’s entire history. A few kooks like Dollinger notwithstanding, most of the brawling was between ultra-montanists and, well…ultra-ultra-montanists.
By post-conciliar standards, Newman would be…downright reactionary, there is no other way to put it. Cornwell, as always, is guilty of anachronism. “Liberalism,” Newman observed, “is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another.” Put that in your homily today and just watch certain jaws hit the floor.
The exact quote is: “To be deep in history is to cease to be protestant.” It’s from Newman’s “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.”
As for Cornwell — he must have had a really rough time in seminary. Every book he writes attacks the Church in one way or another, and he uses his supposed “insider” status to prop up his views. As a historian he is simply nowhere – Hitler’s Pope is full not only of errors but misrepresentations. In fact, it is so bad that it is one of the elements that finally led me to the Church (Cardinal Newman was another). My undergraduate degree was in history with a concentration in military history, and I quickly realized that the book was complete nonsense. Which led me to ask why Cornwell was so hell-bent (I use the term advisedly) on attacking Pius XII. And the answers led me across the Tiber.
Cornwell’s is popular simply because he is a useful tool for those who share his views.
Ian Ker, perhaps the world’s leading expert on Newman, dismantled Cornwell a few weeks ago at the Catholic Herald:
In the Easter issue of the New Statesman, John Cornwell celebrates the feast by invoking Newman’s name in a particularly vicious and virulent attack on the Pope. He ends his article by saying that as the date of the beatification approaches: “We may expect… to hear tidied-up versions of Newman’s critical and liberalising views of the Catholic Church, but unlike those dissident theologians who have been suppressed down the years, his unexpurgated works … remain in print.” Yes, indeed, and so do over 30 volumes of letters, as well as other volumes of writings that were never published in Newman’s lifetime. As the biographer of Newman and the author and editor of more than 20 books on Newman, I can claim to have consulted these “unexpurgated works” to which Cornwell (who is no Newman scholar) appeals in his attempt to present Newman as a dissident theologian of the “spirit of Vatican II” school.
It is, of course, perfectly true that in the Church in which Newman lived he was seen by the Ultramontanes as a dangerous liberal. But these Ultramontanes were extreme papalists, who were disappointed by the very moderate and circumscribed definition of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council; their counterpart to “the spirit of Vatican II” of contemporary liberal Catholics, who similarly wish that Vatican II had gone much further in its teachings, was “creeping infallibility”, whereby all papal statements were to be exaggerated as far as possible. But even in that very illiberal atmosphere, Newman was no liberal in the eyes of contemporary liberals like Lord Acton who despised him for his deference to authority.
Even though Newman lived in an extremely authoritarian and papal Church, which makes the Church of John Paul II and Benedict XVI look dangerously liberal, in which dissenting theologians were not “suppressed” but simply excommunicated, he does not hesitate to pronounce: “I conceive the force, the peremptoriness, the sternness, with which the Holy See comes down upon the vagrant or the robber, trespassing upon the enclosure of revealed truth, is the only sufficient antagonist to the power and subtlety of the world…” The Church’s infallibility, Newman thought, was “a provision … to preserve religion in the world, and to restrain… freedom of thought… and to rescue it from its own suicidal excesses”. Even a genuine reformer who speaks out when “the right time for it is [not] come” is, in Newman’s view, “just one of those persons whom the competent authority ought to silence”. Certainly, Newman thought the Church he lived in was excessively authoritarian and intolerant of theological freedom, but he would have been amazed by the tolerance shown by popes since Vatican II of theologians like Hans Küng who openly dissent from Church doctrine.
Full essay here: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/opinion/o0000363.shtml
Have not read “A Thief in the Night”. But a leopard doesn’t change his spots, and I would view with extreme caution anybody who could write “Hitler’s Pope”. He violates the first rule of historians: don’t tamper with the evidence.
I echo your thought, Andy…Cornwell is a loon!
Perhaps we can pray to Cardinal Newman for his conversion…
I was under the impression that the doofus recanted Hitler’s Pope. Perhaps it was someone else I am thinking of.
Scott, after the general outcry against the book, he kinda sorta said that he might have been mistaken on some points.
It was a weaselly semi-retraction on page D28 in very small type, just above the lost pet ads.
Just as some people are driven to insane jealousy by seeing their mental and spiritual problems next to the charitable works of the saints, or against their piety and love, there are some people (usually intellectuals) who can’t stand seeing a saint who’s also a Great Mind or a popular writer. (You usually see this directed against Aquinas or Augustine, but pretty much everybody intellectual gets some of it.)
It’s also possible that it’s something about Newman’s writing style that drives Cornwall wacky, of course. Writers tend to enlarge their personal stylistic bugaboos into crusades. Chronological stylistic misunderstandings can be particularly bitter. (Most Victorians writing about friends always pile on the purple prose, for goodness’ sake. Heck, they pile on the purple prose about enemies and about people to whom they are indifferent. When they try to write unemotionally, they sterilize the prose to the point of being an ultraviolet sort of purple prose.)
There’s also cases where people just don’t get each other, but that tends to be more productive of good but very different work. We can only hope for Mr. Cornwell that he will, in this way, get over it and get on with it.
And no, it wouldn’t hurt to ask for the intercession of the Venerable (soon Blessed) Newman.
I see in the first comment that the UK needs another Manning, another Newman, not so. Manning was very good pastorally, marching with the striking London Dockers, mostly Irish, to get a living wage. Newman was a bright intelligent man, but contrary to today’s public opinion he never built up the faith in England. I say this from memory being an English born catholic of an Irish Mother and English Father. Two priests of that time we, the ordinary Catholics , revered were Fr Frederick Faber and later Msgr Ronald Knox, both Oxford Dons as was Newman. Newman was never in the forties mentioned in English schools and can assure you I do not remember Lead Kindly Light ” sung but I sure remember along with other kids belting out, “Faith of our Fathers” Cut and Paste and read the following link http://www.seattlecatholic.com/a060726.html. Father Faber’s books were in great demand, his book on the Precious Blood is worth every penny you will pay.
The Cardinal Hierarch who was of the most value to the English Church was cardinal Herbert Vaughan whose statement still rings true, “That only the English Catholic Church can make a decision on the veracity of the Anglican priesthood. Cut, paste and read the following link from the Cardinal’s bio.
http://mikehurcum.blogspot.com/2007/01/english-catholic-church-and-validity-of.html. I believe I read on the blog, (Fr Z’s) somewhere how the respect for Newman around the world was not seen in the UK.
In fact in the first days of Vat 2 and amongst the early speeches one finds a quote form an Indian Bishop of his thoughts, “Card. Newman most be spinning in his grave with joy. He is the true father of this council. It is a culmination of his work. I never did think much of his interpretive works on miracles in the bible as natural phenomena.
As a baptized English Catholic now Canadian, I prefer Mary Ward, Teresa Higginson, the Jesuits Martyrs and Father Faber. Teresa’s devotion to the Sacred Head (the Divine Intellect) pushed by one of Fr Z’s favorite English priests blog is because of the promises made by Christ just about the best devotion along with Divine Mercy to practice today.
May I add this the leading gift of the Holy Spirit in First Corinthians per Msgr Knox’s book Enthusiasm
is building up the Church. Vaughan gave us Westminster Cathedral, the Maryknolls, the fund to pay converted Anglican priests, the Westminster Hymnal the book of Hymns ever penned.
John Cornwell may or may not be a loon, but he is definitely a liar. All you have to do is read Ron Rychlak’s takedown of his falsehoods in regard to “Hitler’s Pope.” Read Rychlak’s book “Hitler, the War and the Pope” and his other writings online, in which he details all the lies that Cornwell told about the time he spent at the Vatican researching Pius XII. For one thing, Rychlak clearly shows that while Cornwell actually claimed to be a good Catholic who wanted to exonerate Pius XII’s war record, he had in reality already been reviling this Pope for a number of years before he wrote the book. Also, the “secret archives he researched weren’t really secret, and didn’t say anything about the Pope’s war time record as Cornwell claimed, because the available archives ended before the war began.
More than that, though I find it disturbing that while some good Catholics rightly distrust what Cornwell wrote in “Hitler’s Pope” and his work on John Paul II, they think that “A Thief in the Night” is a good or at least a better book. As someone who has done an enormous amount of research into the lie of John Paul I, I can assure you that this work is just as bad and just as full of lies as the others. True to form, Cornwell lied about how he came to write this book too. Archbishop (now Cardinal) Foley has always denied that the Vatican commissioned this book. In fact, there is reason to believe that Cornwell approached them.
And most important, he distorted John Paul I’s life and views, and even purposely mistranslated passages from Italian to make it look like he was a seriously inept, whiny and neurotic character who was just praying to die because he couldn’t stand the burden of the papacy. This is simply not the truth. I have written a whole series taking down this book and David Yallop’s “In God’s Name” as well. I hope to publish this material, updated, in my biography of John Paul I. Her’s the link:
By the way, Rychlak has a new updated edition of “Hitler, the War and the Pope” coming out. The first edition was an excellent read and a clear historical vindication of Pius XII and his help for the Jews. The 2nd ed. is bound to be even better.
Cardinal Newman a liberal???? Is the man out of his mind? Wait– no need to answer that. Ah, what times we live in. Newman was a theologian, not a popular writer like Knox (I LOVE RONALD KNOX), but he is certainly influential today among the”highbrow folks.” I have always admired him for his stance on papal infallibility. He believed it but didn’t think it was the right time to declare it a dogma, something that seems perfectly sensible to me. But when the Pope declared it a dogma, he didn’t make a Hans Kung-like fuss and alert the media of the time that the bishops had all disagreed with his wonderful self. And I wonder where we would be today without that dogma?
Does anyone have a link to the supposedly famous thing Newman wrote savaging liberalism? If you are a Newman fan you will know what I mean. I’ve been told to read it but I don’t know what work it’s from.
Gail, I think you’re referring to Newman’s ‘Biglietto’ speech (the speech he delivered when receiving his cardinal’s hat from the Pope). This is the bit you’re probably recalling:
“Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man’s religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.”
You’ll find the whole thing at http://www.newmanreader.org/works/addresses/file2.html