Theologian of conscience

The admiration of Benedict XVI

Don Ian Ker, Professor of Theology at Oxford University and parish in Budford wrote: “John Henry Newman: a biography”, a major survey on the renowned theologian and cardinal. His TV interview in 2000 persuaded Jack Sullivan to pray to Newman to obtain healing. This miracle led to the Cardinal’s beatification. The celebration presided over by Benedict XVI will take place in Birmingham on September 19. Silvia Guzzetti, interviewed Fr Ian Ker (previous services in SIR Europe of June 16-18 2010). Jack Sullivan was healed from a form of backbone paralysis after having turned to Newman, of whom you had spoken of during a television interview in the year 2000. Is it true? “Sullivan was watching a program on EWTN, an American Catholic broadcasting network. He didn’t know much about Newman, but he was impressed by my account and by the fact that there was the need for a miracle to initiate the beatification process. He thus decided to ask Newman’s intercession to heal him. His plea was fulfilled. He was on a wheel chair and he started walking again”.What do you think of the beatification?“I’m very happy. It’s an important step towards the sanctity of Newman. I’m sure that once he is saint, Newman will immediately be elevated as Doctor of the Church, since he’s one of the great theologians who envisioned the Second Vatican Council on themes like ecumenism, the role of the laity, the freedom of religion and the need, for the Catholic Church, to adapt herself to a changing world”.The Pope makes an exception to the rule he himself established, whereby beatifications are celebrated by a Vatican representative in the competent diocese. For Cardinal Newman Benedict XVI will be in Birmingham… “A large number of popes wished to canonize Newman since they consider him someone who welcomed modernization, whilst being faithful to Church authority. Breaking his very same rules the Pope shows that he considers Newman an exceptional case, one of the major theologians of the Catholic Church. The Pope admired Newman’s writings of the 1940s, notably his ‘theology of the conscience’, after having read the translations by German scholar Theodore Haecker”.Some have said that the spirit of the Second Vatican Council was betrayed, along with Newman’s thought… “This is the interpretation of the liberals inside the Church. Newman would have no time to waste with those who perceived the Second Vatican Council as a revolutionary enterprise, establishing a rupture with Church tradition. John Paul II was a reformer within the Council, and so is Pope Benedict XVI, the same role held by Newman”. So was Newman misunderstood?“Yes, Newman was misunderstood first as an Anglican and later as a Catholic. He was the object of hostility on the part of those who gave an extreme interpretation of Papal infallibility. Newman was always extremely orthodox, even though he was a reformer. He was a reformer in continuity, like Ratzinger and Wojtyla.Indeed, during his own times, Newman could have been described as a moderate liberal, since he opposed ultramontane extremists who were disappointed by the description of Papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council.At the same time, he was despised by extreme liberals for his deference for authority and certainly, compared to our times, he cannot be described as a Liberal Catholic. ‘In truth, the Church must remain the same’, Newman wrote in his famous ‘Essay on the development of Christian doctrine'”.It has been said that Newman wasn’t only hyper-sensitive but also excessively touchy… “Newman belonged to the generation who communicated via mail, and not by phone. He wrote an incredible number of letters and preserved as many. As a result, Newman put into writing the casual comments we would make over the phone but which we would never put into writing. These phrases, taken out of context, can be used today as printed public statements”.In other words, Newman wasn’t very diplomatic… “He hated chatter, compromise and muddles. He was straightforward and preferred honesty to diplomacy. Often he was even too blunt, and failed to consider the effects of this attitude on his reputation. We must also consider that Victorian England was much different, marked by frankness and dishinibition. Perhaps Newman wasn’t always kind, but he was always heroic in his Christian coherence”.What can be said to those who still today say that Newman was homosexual? “It’s ridiculous. Only an age such as ours, marked by an obsession for sex, can make such a claim. They use as evidence the fact that he was buried with his friend Ambrose St.John, but this happened very often at the time. Those who study Newman’s years as a young man, during his adolescence, will realize that these statements are ungrounded. At the time, in Oxford’s environment, most teachers were men and deep friendships inevitably developed between them”.

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