Blessed and dangerous

What might be called the year of John Henry Newman has come and gone with a flurry of books devoted to the former cardinal. His beatification—the last stage before granting full sainthood—was conferred by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2011 at an outdoor ceremony in Birmingham, the city where, from 1848 until his death in 1889, Newman did most of his work after becoming the most famous convert to Roman Catholicism in the 19th century.

The prospect of Newman’s being raised to the altars as the Blessed John Henry has not pleased all Catholics. Garry Wills called Benedict “a dissembler and disguiser” for praising Newman as “a model of submission to church authority.” For Wills, Newman was a testy rebel against Vatican obfuscation and authoritarianism until, in 1881, the newly consecrated Pope Leo XIII “bought him off with a cardinal’s robes when he was eighty and tamable.”


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