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Was Newman gay?
Posted By Eric Sammons On September 20, 2010 @ 8:17 am In Saints,Sexuality | Comments Disabled
In recent years it has become fashionable to question the sexual orientation of historical figures. Was Lincoln gay? Was Alexander the Great? This search has also reached into the lives of saints of the Catholic Church, and one of the main figures whose sexual orientation is in question is the just-beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.
NPR just ran a story last week entitled “Was Cardinal John Henry Newman Gay? ” In it, his relationship to Ambrose St. John is found to be suspiciously close and thus some modern people believe this may mean that Cardinal Newman was homosexual. Although the article is careful to never suggest that Newman had a sexual relationship with St. John, there are real problems with this type of speculation.
The most significant problem is that people who suggest that Newman was gay are transferring our culture into another, very different, culture. In today’s society, heterosexual men rarely express outward affection for other heterosexual men. It would be very odd, for example, for me to sign a letter to a male friend “with much love” or “your dearest friend”. However, this was not the case in Newman’s time. It was very common for men to express affection for other men outwardly in and even in flowery language. If you read any of the letters of Newman and the other men in the Oxford Movement (married or celibate), you notice immediately that they are very outward in their expressions of affection for one another. And this is the case with most educated men of Newman’s time. So when a modern person reads such letters, he must be careful not to inject our culture’s reserve to Newman’s time. Just because Newman wrote affectionately to other men says absolutely nothing about his sexual orientation, one way or another.
Regarding Newman’s close friendship with Ambrose St. John, the same cautions must be noted. Because of the rise of the homosexual movement, most heterosexual men are very hesitant to form deep attachments to other men, for fear of being misunderstood. The idea of two unmarried men being very close friends and yet having no sexual attraction to one another is becoming more and more foreign to those of us seeped in today’s over-sexualized culture. Yet this was not the case in Newman’s time. Newman and St. John were very close to one another, but that says absolutely nothing about either of their sexual orientations. Also note that they belonged to the Oratory of St. Philip, which is not a religious order with vows, and thus there is no binding rule against strong friendships like you might find in actual religious orders.
It is important to note that one’s sexual orientation does not need to have an impact on their sanctity. Every single person affected by Original Sin has disordered passions, and all of us need to overcome them. This is true no matter one’s sexual orientation. So even if it were discovered that some saint or blessed from the past was attracted sexually to the same sex, it would not detract from their struggle for sanctity. But at the same time, it is a meaningless gesture to try to “out” past figures with no real evidence, and often such an effort is used by those who wish to normalize the disordered passions of homosexuality.
So, was Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman gay? We have absolutely no reason to believe so, and speculation on the topic says more about those who push that idea than it does about Newman.
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 Was Cardinal John Henry Newman Gay?: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129930850
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