NEWS:  September 29, 2010

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

DOUBTS ABOUT NEWMAN'S BEATIFICATION  -  Through numerous videos available on the Internet, I followed the ceremony of beatification of Card. John Henry Newman by Benedict XVI on September 19, 2010. In a feeble voice, he nonetheless employed his apostolic authority to declare that Newman now merits the title of blessed and to authorize his public cult. As a simple Catholic layman, I am confused by this beatification. Let me try to explain my reasons.

Benedict XVI proclaiming Newman a blessed

Benedict uses his apostolic authority to declare Newman blessed
To confirm the precise conditions for the beatification process and thus avoid a superficial commentary, I re-visited the famous Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique edited by Vacant & Mangenot on this topic. I also re-read the main articles on beatification and canonization in the Dictionnaire de Droit Catholique (Dictionary of Canon Law) edited by R. Naz, which is perhaps the most comprehensive ensemble of commentaries and explanations on the previous Code of Canon Law.

As one knows, that 1917 Code was neither an invention of St. Pius X, who ordered the work, nor of Benedict XV, under whose reign it was completed and published. It was a codification of the laws promulgated throughout the history of the Church, summarized and organized by experts under the orientation of those two Pontiffs. Thence, the Pius-Benedictine Code was an authentic mirror of Catholic teaching on juridical-doctrinal matters. Since processes of beatifications are an important part of that teaching, nothing seems more opportune than to ask whether Newman's beatification corresponds to those wise rules that governed the Church for centuries.

I used the verb in the past tense, "governed," because the New Code of Canon Law initiated by Paul VI and promulgated by John Paul II in 1983 did away with all the rules of the beatification and canonization processes. They simply disappeared in the New Code. Later, we heard that the rules were modified following unclear criteria and now are part of the internal norms of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, almost inaccessible for public consultation. Undoubtedly John Paul II's "saint factory" greatly benefited from their disappearance.

For centuries the Popes perfected a rigorous system to declare only those persons who really are in Heaven as blessed and saints. Doing so, they assured Catholics that they were not venerating some black sheep who unduly pretended to be in that flock. The conciliar Popes, however, do not seem so interested in knowing whether this or that person is in Heaven, especially since John Paul II and Benedict XVI have issued confused declarations stating that Heaven and Hell are not physical places but rather states of spirit. (1) If this is so, why not declare their liberal, modernist or progressivist co-religionists blessed or saints just to give them prestige and foster their ideas? It would be a pragmatic approach, "existential" as progressisivists used to say.

But since those traditional rules always oriented the Church in beatifications, I believe it quite timely and legitimate for a Catholic to ask whether Newman's beatification fulfilled those conditions.

Orthodoxy of writings

One of the first measures taken to see if a person deserves to have his cause of beatification introduced is the examination of the writings. All the writings of the candidate are checked to see if there is any point that does not agree with the dogmas and teachings of the Catholic Faith. Naz explains: "According to canon 2042, writings include not only his original books, but everything from the pen of the candidate: his printed works, sermons, letters, diaries, autobiographies, personal notes, in brief, everything he wrote himself or dictated to others to be written in his name. (2)

Blessed John Henry Newman

He never completely rejected his past Anglican errors
In Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique expert Fr. Theofile Ortolan, O.M.I., clearly affirms that a candidate's writings must be orthodox in their entirety: "If some heterodox doctrine is found in his writings, either published or not, it would place the faith of its author under suspicion and permanently stop his cause of canonization. Before a cause is introduced in a supreme tribunal, it is, therefore, convenient to be certain beforehand that an obstacle of this type will not be found. It would be absolutely insurmountable." (3) It is evident that, according to the Catholic Church, anyone who is beatified must have written and preached unquestionably orthodox doctrine all his life.

When we apply this condition to Newman, we cannot understand how he was named blessed. In fact he wrote five books - two when he was Protestant and three when he was Catholic - and he considered them all good. When he finished his Grammar of Assent in 1870, he wrote to Sister Imelda Poole: "This is the fifth constructive work which I have done - two as a Protestant, three as a Catholic." (4) When he was Protestant he also gave sermons at Oxford that were published and became famous. Newman never entirely renounced either those "constructive works" or the sermons of his Protestant period. His letters reveal that he maintained a warm friendship with Protestants and continued to defend many of the Anglican ideas he formerly upheld.

Now then, how could his process of beatification be introduced and approved in face of this frontal clash with the aforementioned condition? To my knowledge, no restriction was placed on Newman's writings either by Benedict XVI or the Vatican. Does his beatification signify that Catholics must learn from his Protestant writings, as if they expressed a crystalline orthodoxy?

The TIA website has posted many points in which Newman contradicted the Catholic Faith. For example, he wrote against Papal Infallibility, devotion to Our Lady and the Immaculate Conception, the Syllabus, the immutable character of dogma, the Pope's temporal power, and the monarchical structure of the Church. Any one of these points would normally stop his beatification process. But none of them did. Benedict XVI, using his apostolic authority, declared him blessed – without any known restrictions regarding these points.

What can one think about a beatification that disregards the Catholic Faith of the "blessed"?

Heroic virtues

Another indispensable condition for beatification is the practice of the heroic virtues. The candidate's practice of the theological virtues - Faith, Hope and Charity - and the cardinal virtues - Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude - must be examined with the greatest care. A stain against any of these virtues should stop the process of beatification.

How could any serious process that scrutinized the practice of virtue of Card. Newman disregard his suspicious relationship with Fr. Ambrose St. John? Even if homosexuality were not proved irrefutably, how can Benedict XVI present a man under this public suspicion as a model for Catholics?

Indisputable miracles

Another important condition for beatification is the presence of two to four indisputable miracles worked through the intercession of the candidate. The Church Militant asks the Church Triumphant to manifest herself and demonstrate that the candidate is actually in Heaven. The Church Triumphant responds with supernatural actions, miracles. To be entirely sure that each of these actions came from Heaven, the Church meticulously examines it.

Naz reports how careful the Church always was in analyzing the miracles attributed to beatification candidates: "The case only progresses if its proponents declare they can establish the existence of a certain number of miracles incontestably due to the intercession of the servant of God. ... We do not need to stress that the Church is extremely rigorous in accepting miraculous facts proposed to her and that she keeps for further study only those which clearly have an indisputable supernatural character” (5).

Jack Sullivan

First Jack Sullivan did not reveal his surgery; then he presented his quick recovery as a "miracle"
John Paul II reduced the number of miracles required for beatification to one. What was the miracle that allowed Newman to be declared blessed? It was the supposed healing of Mr. Jack Sullivan, a deacon in the city of Marshfield near Boston. In August 2009 I wrote a column on this miracle. At that time the miracle was presented by the press in this way: Mr. Sullivan had a pain in his back; he prayed to Card. Newman to be cured and he was. Later, the pain returned, he prayed again, and once more he was healed. I commented that this reported healing could never be attributed incontestably to a supernatural action.

At that time, I found no report that Mr. Sullivan had ever undergone back surgery. Now, however, as he appeared in the limelight at the beatification Mass, a new version of the "miracle" was presented. It is this: He had his pain in the back, he prayed, he was healed. The pain returned, he had surgery to cure it, he prayed to Newman and the reportedly long recovery took place in a much shorter time than normal. You can check news reports here and here.

What is probable is that the first version spread was deceptive: There was no full cure when it was said that Newman had healed Deacon Sullivan. He had to have a later surgery to repair his back. The healing should be attributed to the doctor who operated on him. But then, it seems that to continue the charade, Mr. Sullivan pretended that his quick recovery from that surgery was a "miracle."

One of his physicians, Dr. Robert Banco, confirmed his claim, and this provided the needed "miracle" in Newman's process. Another competent surgeon who analyzed the case, however, affirmed the opposite. Indeed, in an interview granted to The Sunday Times, Dr. Michael Powell, a specialist from London's National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, stated that there was nothing remarkable about Sullivan's five-day recovery from an "essentially quite easy" operation. And he said he laughed with his colleagues over the tale of a miracle: "I had a good chuckle with spine surgeons here over that one."

Jack Sullivan at Newman beatification Mass

The Vatican's showed lack of seriousness in accepting Sullivan's "miracle;" above, he reads at the solemn Mass
In face of these facts, I ask: How was it possible for a simple recovery from back surgery to be qualified as a supernatural indisputable fact that decisively counts as a miracle to make a man blessed? Further, how can the opinion of specialists who considered the quick recovery normal be disregarded? One sees that this alleged miracle could never be presented to justify naming Newman blessed according to the laws of the Church.

Since none of the three initial and indispensable conditions to proceed with a cause of beatification were present, how was it possible for Newman's cause not only to be introduced, but successfully closed with him being proclaimed "blessed"?

An objector could argue: Your reasoning is based on the previous Code of Canon Law, which was abrogated by the authority of John Paul II. Therefore, any argument based on it has lost its value.

I would answer: I know that a Pope can change the positive laws of the Church. He cannot, however, change centuries-old Catholic teaching on what is orthodox and heterodox, what is moral and immoral, and what is indisputably a miracle or is not.

Let me conclude being as clear as possible: I sustain that a man who wrote heterodox books, preached heterodox sermons and in countless letters took positions against Catholic dogmas, a man whose reputation to this day suffers the grave suspicion of homosexuality, a man who cannot claim any indisputable miracle, cannot be proclaimed a blessed.

If this conclusion is correct - and I would like to be proven wrong - it seems that His Holiness Benedict XVI made an abusive and illegitimate act of authority when he beatified John Newman.
1. The General Audience where John Paul II affirmed that Hell is a state of spirit can be found here; the homily in which Benedict XVI denied that Heaven is a physical place can be read here.
2. R. Naz "Cause de béatification et de canonization," Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique, Paris: Letouzey & Ane, 1942, col. 15.
3. T. Ortolan, "Canonisation dans l'église Romaine," Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, Paris: Letouzay & Ane, 1923, vol. II, col 1647.
4. J.H. Newman, letter to Sister Imelda Poole, apud Wilfrid Ward, The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman, London: Logmans-Green, 1913, vol. II, p. 266.
5. R. Naz, ibid, col. 31.

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