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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Wednesday, July 16, 2003 The Newman-St. John example is relevant to the debate over the suitability of homosexual men for ordination, as David Kubiak and Mark Shea note, and indicates that men so oriented, leading chaste lives, have contributed significantly to the Church.
The contention has not been made that Cardinal Newman broke his vows of chastity, but the indications are that he was, in all likelihood, a sublimated homosexual. Flowery 19th-century writing styles and battlefield brotherhood aside, straight men do not as a rule refer to male companions in spousal terms or insist upon sharing the same burial plot.
Meantime, the significant place of gays in the history of ritual Anglo-Catholicism does not come as a revelation. The Rev. Peter Gomes, minister at Harvard's Memorial Church, and himself gay, writes in a review of Douglas Shand-Tucci's Boston Bohemia, a biography of Gothic architect Ralph Adams Cram:
What is implicit in the culture of the school shaped by Cram's buildings and run by his friends is made explicit in the connection Shand-Tucci makes between Anglo-Catholicism and homosexuality. Certain clergy of the Anglo-Catholic tradition have always been referred to as members of the "third sex," and the affinity of homosexuals for the rites and fashions of Anglo-Catholicism is well known. That affinity is regarded by Shand-Tucci as a form of cultural as well as aesthetic rebellion, while the aesthetic part, the so-called "smells and bells," is generally understood to be and often attributed to a love of beauty in all of its forms. The cultural rebellion of Anglo-Catholicism, however, is not so generally appreciated, and, Shand-Tucci argues, and I think persuasively, that it provides an outward expression of protest in the form of affirming what President Eliot might call the "unnatural" or "irregular," but the rebellion is religious and therefore tolerated, and without risk to overt matters of sexual identity. "Among the cognoscenti," says Shand-Tucci, "the Anglo-Catholic affinity for homosexuality has long been an open secret. To say so in print is, admittedly, to break a long-standing taboo and will doubtless shock many..."
It is in the ecclesiastical Gothic of Ralph Adams Cram, examples of which are often called "sensuous," that the Anglo-Catholic aesthetic sensibility and the homosexual devotee blend in something of a trinitarian evocation of beauty both furtive and at the same time flamboyant: beautiful buildings, beautiful music, beautiful men. The English Oxford Movement has long been associated with aesthetic homosexuality, and its principals, John Henry Newman, Edward B. Pusey, and John Keble, have been described as sublimated homosexuals. The American manifestations of this movement in Boston, in the Church of the Advent; St. John's, Bowdoin Street; All Saints', Ashmont; and the Society of St. John the Evangelist Monastery-the Cowley Fathers in Cambridge-share a sensibility and a constituency in which the aesthetic and sexual rebellion are given some degree of protective coloration by a minority but elite religion out of step with its surroundings. There is nothing new here. What is new, and is therefore news, is that Shand-Tucci acknowledges the phenomenon and gives it a thorough-going public discussion. It is reported that a heterosexual bishop, having read Boston Bohemia after a lifetime of dealing with the ambiguities about Anglo-Catholics and homosexuals, exclaimed to the author that he thought he had finally understood what it was all about.
Given the tenor of Cardinal Newman's writings and burial wishes with regard to Fr. St. John, and the acknowledged gay strains in the Oxford Movement, it is not a leap to consider Cardinal Newman as having been homosexual in orientation. Indeed, to consider him not so seems more of a leap; either that, or an indication of not getting out enough.
Patrick Rothwell, a convert to Roman from Anglo-Catholicism and a keen observer of the Anglo-Catholic scene, comments re Halsall &c:
I think he is on to something with Newman. All of the evidence is circumstantial, but if you take it all together and combine it with contemporaneous observations by his enemies who noted his effeminency, (Charles Kingsley) as well as his statement that he *knew* that he was destined for the single life at age 16, one has a pretty convincing though not certain case that Newman was homosexually oriented. In any event, its completely non-verifiable. It would, however, be interesting to know what he wrote or thought about certain proto-gay currents in the late Victorian era, (if anything).
I doubt that all of this has anything to do with the fact that he has not been canonization. The Holy See already has declared that he lived a life of heroic virtue. The real reason is probably the lack of a verifiable miracle. He's not exactly the sort of person that common folk would pray to for miraculous cures or whatnot.
He has previously written on the impact a ban on homosexual priests would have on efforts to restore beauty to liturgy.