Stealing Newman

Gary Wills writes in The New York Review of Books:

Pope Benedict XVI is the best-dressed liar in the world. And in England he presided over the best set-designed lie imaginable. He beatified the nineteenth-century Oxford theologian John Henry Newman, presenting him (in the penultimate step toward canonization) as a docile believer in papal authority, an enemy of dissent, and a rebuke to anyone who questions church authority. When the pope declared authentic the bogus miracle on which he bases the beatification—the claim that a deacon from Boston was cured of a spinal disease after praying to the cardinal—he said in a letter from Rome to England last February “In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.” This is a Newman few who are acquainted with his radical views would recognize.


Whatever his motives, the pope is blatantly defying historical truth when he says that Newman is a model of submission to church authority. Newman was a restive Catholic under constant scrutiny and criticism from Rome until a new pope (Leo XIII) bought him off with a cardinal’s robes when he was eighty and tamable.

He was a fierce critic of Pope Pius IX (beatified in 2000 by Benedict’s predecessor). Pius was pope for over thirty years, and Newman said that any man holding that office even for twenty years was bound to become a tyrant. He was allied with Lord Acton in opposing the “tyrant majority” at the Vatican Council that in the year 1870 declared the pope infallible. He wrote of the Council: “We have come to a climax of tyranny. It is not good for a pope to live twenty years. It is anomaly, and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it.”

Past Posts