Recently a parishioner informed me of certain accusations that the Tradition in Action (TIA) website has been making against John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890). This well-known English cardinal had been an Anglican, but converted 45 years before his death. After his conversion he was ordained a priest and spent the rest of his life in spreading and defending the Faith. Eleven years before his death he was created cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. The TIA website, according to this parishioner, was claiming that Newman was a liberal and a homosexual. I was upset that anyone would make such allegations against this good cardinal, yet I dismissed it as yet another case of short-lived internet gossip. Such gossip appears to be rather common among Catholics who apparently do not have enough time to pray. I wonder sometimes whatever happened to the 8th Commandment. Perhaps it has ceased to bind since the advent of the internet?
Since I generally dislike getting involved in such polemics, I put the accusations out of my head. To my surprise, however, the next day a perfect stranger sitting next to me on an airplane asked me about the very same two allegations. I decided I had better look into it and, if necessary, speak out against the slanderous accusations. I cannot stand to see ignorant Catholics ruining the reputation of a prince of the Church. I searched a few traditional websites and, to my relief, I did not find any of them spreading the gossip. Nevertheless, I did find these accusations on the TIA site. I also found the accusations of homosexuality on several secular news sites, but they appeared to be all from a year ago. The TIA website had a number of posts with very offensive claims. One statement that particularly caught my attention was in the article Liberals, Modernist and Progressivists by Atila S. Guimarães. In it he not only calls Cardinal Newman a liberal, together with Bishop Dupanloup (whom I would also gladly defend if I had the time), but he also says the following of Pope Leo XIII:
Pope Leo XIII became famous for his politics of ralliement [reuniting], which signified the approval of the Church for the revolutionary democracy installed in France. This was a clear liberal position of Leo XIII, and alas, not the only one. Indeed, protected by his support, Liberalism gave birth to Modernism [my emphasis]. i
It is incredible that someone claiming to be Catholic would make such a charge against Pope Leo XIII. One reader of this article then sent a comment which TIA posted. The reader said that after doing a "little research" he had come to the conclusion that TIA was right in calling Newman a liberal. He also referred to a news article in which "gay rights activist" Peter Tatchell was claiming that Newman was homosexual. Perhaps it would have been better for this reader to do more than a "little" research before spreading such calumnies, especially against someone of such high dignity.
TIA then posted a reply, saying they would pass the information on to their readers. They thanked him for the information and agreed that Newman was a liberal, but said we should be cautious about the accusations regarding homosexuality. They also noted the bad reputation of Tatchell who made the claims. Then, contrary to all reason and justice, they made the following statement:
This same scandalous man [Tatchell] appears to be the only source of the news you sent us about Cardinal Newman. He is morally condemnable as a homosexual and a blackmailer, but, as far as we know, he has not been proved wrong in his accusations. We are carefully watching the development of this case without making any premature judgment. ii
Incredible! Tatchell is corrupt, but maybe he is telling the truth? In the mean time we will just spread the scandal without making any "premature judgment"? Since when has it become lawful to publish to the world accusations against a man before we have even ascertained the truth of them? TIA says that the accuser "has not been proved wrong". Is his Eminence then guilty until proven innocent?
TIA offered a couple more posts on the subject. Then a reader requested them to remove the posts since the claims had already been refuted. TIA responded by saying that the case was not settled. They defended their accusation with the following statement:
The point that both the journalist and the scholar did not address and that you also disregarded is whether it is true that Card. Newman described his sorrow at the death of his companion, Fr. Ambrose of Saint John, as "a grief comparable to a wife losing a husband."
We posted evidence that Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, when he was still Archbishop of Westminster, admitted that this text is authentic. Therefore, there are reasonable grounds to suspect that Newman was a homosexual. As a matter of fact, we do not know of any normal man who would write such a thing….
We support the hypothesis that he could be homosexual based on the text he wrote. iii
It is contrary to all justice to interpret this phrase of Cardinal Newman in the way TIA does. The actual words of Newman at the death of his dear friend, Fr. Ambrose, were: "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." These words were quoted on several websites but without a source. TIA claims that no normal person would say this. This is not true. On the contrary, no normal person would interpret the cardinal's words as implying an impure love. The only ones who would interpret it that way are the abnormal humans of our day who know nothing of any kind of love except sensual love. They have no concept of supernatural love. A Catholic should be the last person to agree with them in their interpretation of Cardinal Newman's words.
The saints often expressed their supernatural love for others in words which would surprise those who are accustomed to use such words only to express sensual love. Consider the following examples from the letters of St. Bernard to various men: iv
It is now quite clear, my dearest Drogo, that my affection for you has not been misplaced. Even before this I saw that you were a very lovable person, and I perceived that there was something about you, I know not what, apart from what I saw and heard of you, entitling you to respect as well as to affection. Perhaps even then you had heard the voice of the Bridegroom, in whose pure arms you are now closely held, whispering to your soul, as to a shy dove: "Fair in every part, my true love, no fault at all in thy fashioning." (Letter 35, to the Monk Drogo)
When you are sorrowful, I cannot but be sorry; nor can I hear of your worries and troubles without being myself worried and troubled…As it is, I suffer more than enough by not having you by me, by not being able to see anything of you and enjoy the comfort of your company, so that I am at times tempted to regret having sent you away…because I cannot see you, I mourn for you as lost to me." (Letter 76, to Rainal, Abbot of Foigny)
Would we question the motives of St. Bernard in these words? Should other saints who have used similar words be considered as "abnormal" for saying such things? Why then should we feel free to slander the character of Cardinal Newman over a few words uttered at a time of great grief?
As a side note, Newman's motto, "Cor ad cor loquitur (Heart speaks to heart)", has nothing to do with any sensual meaning. It refers to the characteristic gentleness with which the cardinal wished to lead souls to God. He borrowed it from St. Francis de Sales who was known for such meekness.
I will proceed now to the second allegation, regarding Newman being a liberal. The question of Cardinal Newman's writings and the history of his disagreements with others (e.g. Manning and Brownson) is a long and complex one which cannot be dealt with in the careless and cursory way that it has been handled on the TIA website. On one hand, this complexity may lessen their guilt, for it is easy to see how a hasty and perhaps somewhat biased research could lead to the judgment that he was a liberal. On the other hand, it also tends to increase their blame, for is it not the duty of a Catholic, in the face of such vast and conflicting information, to proceed with the greatest care and diligence to arrive at the truth?
Are we to take lightly the reputation of a Cardinal of the Church and renowned theologian who was given a D.D. by Pope Pius IX himself and made cardinal by Leo XIII? Is the reputation of a prince of the Church so unimportant that a few minutes of internet searching suffice to make us feel safe in condemning him as a modernist? There are enough modernists without us having to create our own. It is not my purpose here to enter into all the details regarding his writings, the controversies created by them, and the misuse made of them by modernists after his death. That is not within my capabilities or the time available to me. My only purpose is to vindicate him from the slanders being spread at the moment.
During Cardinal Newman's life, he was accused by some of being a liberal. His writings were repeatedly denounced by various individuals, including Brownson, one of his main antagonists. After Newman's death in 1890, the debate over his writings continued. To make matters worse, modernists were attempting to claim him as one of their own. When Pope St. Pius X came out with his encyclical Pascendi condemning modernism, some began to say that Newman's writings fell under that condemnation. In December, 1907, the bishop of Limerick, Edward Thomas O'Dwyer, a man very knowledgeable of the works of Newman, came to his defense. He published an essay called Cardinal Newman and the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis. Anyone inclined to accuse Newman of being a liberal should read this essay. The bishop uses a comparison of Newman's writings and various other arguments to show how unfounded the accusation is. On March 10, 1908, a few months after publication of this essay, Pope Pius X sent Bishop O'Dwyer a letter commending him for his able defense of Cardinal Newman.
It is this letter of St. Pius X which will be the basis of my defense of Cardinal Newman. Pius X wrote the encyclical against modernism. If he defends Newman and says he was not a liberal, I do not believe it is within anyone else's ability to pretend to know more about it than that holy pope. What surprises and saddens me is that those who have been tarnishing the cardinal's reputation do not appear to be aware of this letter. The letter is mentioned in the article on John Henry Newman in the Catholic Encyclopedia. It is difficult to understand how this could have escaped the notice of those who are now accusing him. I cannot help doubting the depth of their research.
I will summarize the main points of Pius X's letter, quoting him as I go. The quotations are taken from the English translation of the letter published in the Messenger in 1908. v
The pope made the following points:
1 "We would have you know that your pamphlet, in which you show that the writings of Cardinal Newman, so far from differing from our encyclical letter Pascendi, are in closest harmony with it, has our strongest approval. You could not, indeed, have done better service alike to the cause of truth and to the eminent merit of the man."
2 "For the very things which they [the modernists] themselves have invented they seek the sanction of the name of a most illustrious man. Accordingly, they freely claim that they have drawn certain fundamental positions from that spring and source, and that for that reason we could not condemn the doctrines which are their very own without at the same time, nay, in priority of order, condemning the teaching of so eminent and so great a man…You expose not only their contumacy, but their artifice as well."
3 "If in what he wrote before he professed the Catholic faith there may perchance be found something which bears a certain resemblance to some of the formulas of the modernists, you justly deny that they are in any way supported thereby; both because the meaning underlying the words is very different, as is also the purpose of the writer, and the author himself on entering the Catholic Church submitted all his writings to the authority of the Catholic Church herself, assuredly to be corrected, if it were necessary."
4 "As for the numerous and important books which he wrote as a Catholic, it is hardly necessary to defend them against the suggestion of kindred with heresy. For among the English public, as everybody knows, Henry Newman in his writings unceasingly championed the cause of the Catholic faith in such a way that his work was most salutary to his countrymen, and at the same time most highly esteemed by our predecessors."
5 "Accordingly he was found worthy to be made a Cardinal by Leo XIII, undoubtedly an acute judge of men and things." [Apparently St. Pius X's opinion of Leo XIII is quite different from Mr. Guimarães' opinion.]
6 "No doubt in so great an abundance of his works something may be found which may seem to be foreign to the traditional method of the theologians, but nothing which could arouse a suspicion of his faith. And you rightly state that it is not to be wondered at if at a time when no signs of the new heresy had shown themselves his mode of expression in some places did not display a special caution, but that the modernists act wrongly and deceitfully in twisting those words to their own meaning in opposition to the entire context."
7 "We therefore congratulate you on vindicating with eminent success, through your knowledge of all his writings, the memory of a most good and wise man; and at the same time as far as in you lay, on having secured that among your people, especially the English, those who have been accustomed to misuse that name already cease to deceive the unlearned."
8 "And would that they truly followed Newman as a teacher, not in the fashion of those who, given up to preconceived opinions, search his volumes and with deliberate dishonesty extract from them something from which they contend that their views receive support, but that they might gather his principles pure and unimpaired, and his example and his lofty spirit. From so great a master they may learn many noble things."
To these words we may add Newman's own, excerpted from his famous Biglietto speech upon being raised to the dignity of cardinal:
In a long course of years I have made many mistakes. I have nothing of that high perfection which belongs to the writings of Saints, viz., that error cannot be found in them; but what I trust that I may claim all through what I have written, is this,-an honest intention, an absence of private ends, a temper of obedience, a willingness to be corrected, a dread of error, a desire to serve Holy Church, and, through Divine mercy, a fair measure of success. And, I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as in it, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often.
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. vi
Could Newman's condemnation of liberalism be any clearer? His love for Holy Church and humble submission to her teaching are plainly evident in this speech. There is none of that pride which characterizes modernists and, indeed, all heretics. The same humble submission is clear in Newman's Apologia. The following words from that source are quoted by Bishop O'Dwyer in his essay defending Newman:
And now having thus described it [the Church's infallibility] I profess my own absolute submission to its claim. I believe the whole revealed dogma, as taught by the Apostles, as committed by the Apostles to the Church, and as declared by the Church to me. I receive it, as it is infallibly interpreted by the authority to whom it is thus committed, and (implicitly) as it shall be, in like manner, further interpreted by that same authority till the end of time. I submit, moreover, to the universally received traditions of the Church, in which lies the matter of these new dogmatic definitions which are from time to time made, and which, in all times, are the clothing and illustration of the Catholic dogma as already defined. I submit myself to those other decisions of the Holy See, theological or not, through the organs which it has itself appointed, which, waiving the question of their infallibility, on the lowest ground come to me with acclaim to be accepted and obeyed. vii
I do not think it out of place here to contrast this spirit of docility with TIA's own lack of respect toward Pope Leo XIII noted above. Add to that Dr. Marian Horvat's disrespectful and condemnatory treatment of Pope Benedict XV (pope from 1914 to 1922) in her article The "Reconciliation" of the Two Benedicts. viii TIA's treatment of Pope Pius XII was not much better. ix
TIA evidently does not have that spirit of humble submission and confidence toward the pope that a Catholic must have. They illogically claim that Benedict XVI and his predecessors of Vatican II are still popes in spite of their open rejection of the Faith. Yet, they are not in the least submissive to these "popes". Why should it surprise us if they also arrogate to themselves the right to judge true popes? Sadly, this is the logical result of their rejection of the sedevacantist position. x Unfortunately, they become their own authority. The pope for them becomes nothing more than a figurehead.
TIA's posts on Cardinal Newman demonstrate something which has already been evident to many traditional Catholics for some time: that TIA and Atila S. Guimarães are not reliable sources for information or accurate Catholic teaching. Instead of relying on Saint Pius X's highly favorable judgment of Newman, they form their own opinion. Whether this was done through ignorance, or whether they truly believe they know something that St. Pius X did not, I do not know. They did not post Pius X's letter in defense of Newman, but they did post an interview with the excommunicated Fr. Leonard Feeney in 1954. xi In this interview Fr. Feeney makes many false and certainly gratuitous accusations against the cardinal. He claimed that he was of Jewish descent (as if that made him a bad Catholic), and that his conversion from Anglicanism was only nostalgic. Shall we, together with TIA, trust the judgment of an excommunicated priest, or shall we follow the judgment of a sainted pontiff?
Let this also be a warning to those Catholics, especially those with websites, who easily spread damaging rumors. We are too inclined to accept accusations against a man. It makes us feel as if we are somehow one of the privileged ones who are in "the know." On top of this, some websites are just too interested in appearing to know everything about anything. It would take too much time for them to give adequate research to all the topics on which they speak. It would be better if they only spoke of few things, but well.
Cardinal Manning, in his book The Eternal Priesthood, has an excellent chapter on the priest's trials from false accusers. He says that, like Christ, every priest has sometimes to suffer from false accusations. Sadly, in this case Our Lord's words are verified: "A man's enemies shall be those of his own household." Those very ones who should have defended Newman have sided with his enemies. They have defended the allegations of Tatchell in spite of admitting his corrupt morals. They have given Newman over to the liberals as one of theirs.
In this, Newman shares the lot of Christ, betrayed by Judas and abandoned by His beloved Apostles and by His own people. The saints have shared this lot too. St. Francis de Sales was accused of flattering heretics by his kindness and of ruining in one day more souls than the other missioners could convert in a month. xii St. Pius X himself was, when a simple priest, reported to his bishop for making kindly visits to the Masons, Jews, and atheists in an effort to convert them. xiii
May God grant that Catholics cease to speak about what they haven't researched. A little bit of knowledge of a few facts taken out of context is enough to convince someone of either side of a debate. Few wish to take the trouble to look deeper. Nevertheless, they wish to speak of the little they know. Great before God is their responsibility! Would that they knew more and spoke less!