Who Hijacked Cardinal Newman?

The Financial Times has decided to publish a full blown 2750 word detailed account by John Cornwell on the “papal hijacking” of the Newman Movement by Pope Benedict XVI, not coincidentally coming out at the same time as Pope Benedict’s visit to the United Kingdom.  The piece is a long, detailed and profoundly wrong, and well worth reading to get an understanding of the exact lack of knowledge of religious history in the media today.

Cornwell, not coincidentally, is the discredited author of “Hitler’s Pope”, a false history of Pius XII.   Cornwell admitted many errors after the publication of his screed, though his style remains the same in this piece purporting to discredit Benedict XVI for his lack of liberalism.

Benedict is faulted for taking the Catholic view towards

a range of contemporary issues, besides contraception: human embryonic stem cell experiments, homosexuality, divorce, same-sex unions, and the ordination of women.

rather than taking John Cornwell’s views, which are declared to be much the same as

Newman’s views thus stand in need of major papal revision if they are not to offer comfort to the Catholic liberals and progressives.

So if I have this straight, Cornwell, by fiat, has deemed that Newman’s supporters much give comfort to Catholic liberals and progressives.  Except, I am a Newman supporter, and a board member of the Newman Foundation, and reasonably well informed about the Newman Movement, after 28 years being in it, and I am completely comfortable with Pope Benedict, Canonization and Cardinal Newman. though I am not part of the Newman

following (which) has consisted mostly of university educated Catholics in Britain

as Cornwell has declared.

Cornwell’s brazen defiance of the facts, sums up well in his assignment of political labels to religious organizations

But why had Benedict, a rigid conservative, seen fit to hasten the beatification of a man who has an iconic stature for liberal Catholic intellectuals throughout the English-speaking world? All becomes clear with Benedict’s revision of John Henry Newman’s legacy. Pope Benedict and Catholic officialdom are presenting Newman as an exemplar of unquestioning papal allegiance. The Cardinal has been pontifically hijacked.

So Liberal Intellectuals are good, because they must be left-wingers who cheer for the fashion of the day, rather than the bad old traditions of the Catholic Church, who have “hijacked” Cardinal Newman.

The profound wrongness is in equating liberal Catholic organization with heterodox beliefs and practices.  Liberalism, in Newman’s day and in Newman’s words, was defined by de-centralized decision making, not by adherence to Left-Wing political beliefs.

Something as simple as mass attendance at a Dominican Priory was considered liberal in Cardinal Newman’s era, but not for the reason that many Dominican’s now are considered left-wing.  Newman (like Lord Acton and at times Pope Pius IX) recognized that decision making outside of the direct control of the Bishops and Hierarchy could (and generally did) result in orthodoxy and a well-functioning Church.

Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, Oratorians, Abbey’s, Monasteries, Priories, charismatic movements, devotional movements, Confraternities, Catholic Building Societies, Knighthoods and Military Orders all existed in the 19th century with the acceptance but not necessarily the executive control of the local Bishops.   This was the liberal Catholicism of the period, not the fashionable socialism which had not taken hold yet in Christendom.

Conservative Catholicism, during that period, asked for more centralization of decision making functions, and of course, financial and chancery functions, the real bugaboo in Catholic History.  There were plenty of people who wanted more centralization of authority, especially as communications and transportation became more reliable.  Since communication to far-away places was becoming possible during the 19th century, it is a completely reasonable argument for the Chief Executive of the Catholic Church to have more communications and authority with his far away hierarchy and adherents.

Where Newman actually differed from Pope Pius IX was on the issue of Papal Infallibility, which he saw as a logical problem, rather than a reason for schism. Newman, as accurately described by Pope Benedict, did not dissent.  He adhered to the primacy of the teachings of the Catholic Church, even though he was an active participant in how they came about.  Others theologians, like von Dollinger, did not adhere to the primacy of the teachings of the Church, and thus were in dissent.

I consider Pope Benedict to be a traditional Liberal, promoting and encouraging orthodoxy, but allowing decision making to take place at the most appropriate level.    A Pope who is personal friends with Hans Kung (a fully independent thinking Catholic Priest) cannot very threatening to individual decision making.  Cornwell’s article wants to put the (very shallow) depth of dissent shown in any number of popular media outlets, (seemingly the basis for Nancy Pelosi’s catechetical thought) on the same level of thinking as Hans Kung or Cardinal Newman for that matter.

The Hijacking of Cardinal Newman here is being perpetrated by John Cornwell, not Pope Benedict.  Newman was a champion of orthodoxy, tradition and independent decision making.  He proved through his life’s work that the three could travel together as a profoundly positive force on the Catholic world.



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  • Donna

    Actually, hijacking the to-be-Blessed is, alas, a long-standing tradition – one which began when he was still in this earthly life, with newspapers who circulated false reports that he was about to return to the Anglican Church, that he had already done so – even one that he had grown disgusted with all religion and now an agnostic living in Paris ! During all this time, he was, of course, living and ministering as a faithful Oratorian priest in Birmingham, England, as any Brum Catholic could have told them – but the rumors were more exciting and sold more papers…

  • Ammazzamoro

    …And not only are they friends but everytime Fr. Kung get’s a chance he publicly berates and betrays his dear colleague Joe. The Pope seemingly has an heroic endurance for his loved ones.

  • Steve Smith

    I would be shocked and dismayed if John Cornwell ever got anything right.



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