Today is the last day of Pope Benedict XVI’s UK visit, and he will hold a mass in the English Midlands, where 19th-century Catholic convert Cardinal Newman will be beatified as part of his road to sainthood.
There will also be protests, as there have been throughout the state visit, and today’s will be led by a former Roman Catholic, Mark Rawlinson, near Cofton Park, Birmingham, where the open-air mass will be held.
Cardinal John Henry Newman’s beatification is the stage before canonization, and with it sainthood. Newman was a Catholic convert – he defected from the Church of England in 1845. He is being presented as a hero and man of conscience – although no mention will be made of the claim that Newman was a homosexual and had a relationship (though perhaps not sexually realized, if he stuck to his vows of celibacy) with his very close friend Father Ambrose St John. Their remains were buried together.
When the Catholic Church wanted to dig up Newman’s bones in autumn 2008, to rebury them in a marble tomb, separate from those of St John, they found none there: they had decayed and gone into the dust, with those of his beloved companion.
“Nature has thwarted the Vatican’s heartless plot to violate Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried with the man he loved, Father Ambrose St John,” said the gay- and human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell at the time.
“The Vatican wanted to rebury the Cardinal’s remains in a marble tomb, separate from St John, to dampen speculation that he might have been gay.
“Newman’s and St John’s bodies have decomposed together, uniting them for ever in the same soil. They cannot now be separated, as the Catholic Church planned. Cardinal Newman’s wishes have triumphed over the Vatican’s homophobia,” said Tatchell, who has been a leading light in the Protest the Pope campaign before and during this papal visit.
As ‘husband and wife’
In August 2008, the Independentwrote: “Opposition to the reburial among some British Roman Catholics has been bolstered by a new poll organised by The Church Times, which shows that a majority of Anglicans are now against the separation of Cardinal Newman, a former Anglican clergyman, and Father Ambrose St John who lived together as ‘husband and wife’ for most of their late adult lives.”
However, the Catholic Church said at the time that the planned exhumation was part of the road to canonization, a stage on which comes today’s beatification ceremony.
Today’s demonstration near Cofton Park will be a “peaceful protest to oppose the state visit of Joseph Ratzinger to the UK,” said Mark Rawlinson.
“We believe that is inappropriate that the Pope be given the honour of a state visit to Britain given his harsh and intolerant views on contraception, abortion, equal rights for women and gay people, not to mention his attempts to cover up the numerous cases of child abuse within his church.
“Whilst we accept that he should be free to come to Britain to preach to his followers – albeit at his own expense – we feel that it is important that people are aware of just what unpleasant policies this man stands for, and that he knows that he is not welcome here in Birmingham.
“There is a groundswell of opposition, particularly due to the fact that it is a state, rather than pastoral, visit. In these times of austerity it is galling that the taxpayer is being asked to fund the visit of someone whose views and teachings are at odds with our society’s increasingly sensible views on homosexuality, contraception and education,” said Rawlinson.
During his visit, the Pope has apologized for the “unspeakable” sins committed against victims of Catholic priestly child abuse over the decades, although protestors have pointed to his own complicity in its cover-up. And a major survey has shown that he’s seriously out of step with the thoughts of most Catholics on several key issues.
Meanwhile, six men who were arrested on suspicion of a plot to attack Pope Benedict have now been released without charge. Initially, five men were arrested, and a sixth followed. All were street cleaners.