herald

Wednesday 15 August 2018

Why Benedict is wrong to quote beatified Newman as an ally

Before Benedict's visit, the Archbishop of Canterbury quipped, "The Pope and I both like cats and we both like acquiring Anglican clergy". When they met, the frail old man and the busy hirsute giant were as happy together as schoolboys.

The Pope was flawless throughout. Gentle, relaxed and happy. He may have won over a few of the Nope-to-the-Pope brigade.

He smiled as he shook hands with his first woman vicar, Dr Jane Hedges. She greeted him in Westminster Abbey.

Though he thinks Rowan Williams isn't a priest, at the tomb of Edward the Confessor they spoke a joint final blessing.

He blessed babies and the old. He met with five sex-abuse victims. His shy demeanour made the thousands at his rallies prouder to be Catholics.

Finally, Benedict made blessed a holy and learned man, John Henry Newman, author of hymns such as Lead, Kindly Light. Perhaps only Newman would have objected to this honour.

After the Pope's visit, the old negatives remain. He still denies the validity of Anglican Orders. There is deep friendship between Rome and Canterbury but no hope of reunion.

He expressed sadness that church authorities were not quick or decisive enough in dealing with sex abuse. Surely the opposite is true. Bishops reacted with the speed of light in covering up and conniving with the foul crimes committed by priests on children. His apologies seem to be a PR substitute for deeds.

When Benedict demands blind obedience to all his edicts, he quotes Newman as his ally. He's quite wrong. Forty years ago, Newman taught me that Paul VI had no right to impose on anyone his fallible views on birth control.

Bishops treat all Benedict says as infallible when he hasn't exercised infallibility once! They may have to accept his galloping infallibility. Most Catholics don't and won't. It's not Christian.

Newman said of Pius IX, the first pope declared infallible: "We have come to a climax of tyranny. A long-serving pope becomes a god and does cruel things without meaning it."

Before 1870, Newman was inclined to believe in papal infallibility; he didn't actually believe in it. Many orthodox Catholic bishops denied it.

Newman always stressed "the consensus of the faithful". Only the faith of the whole people of God proclaimed infallibly can "block the exercise of personal conscience". A ban on contraception held by only 10pc can't. As to Benedict's ban on condoms to control Aids, any Catholic is as free as any atheist to label it lunacy.

If Newman had to make a toast, it would be to conscience first, to the Pope after. Polls show Catholics are the Pope's good servants but God's first.

Peter De Rosa is a former Catholic priest and author with Annie Murphy of Forbidden Fruit

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