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Sunday, 2 November 2008

Dem bones, dem bones, dem bones of contention

Just before the head of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, conducted a service yesterday for Cardinal Newman, it was revealed by the human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell that the British government colluded with the Catholic Church to have Newman’s bones separated from those of his boyfriend.

Tatchell unearthed this by looking at documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). The Catholics – noted for moving remains about – wanted to exhume Newman’s bones as a first step to making him a saint.

However, they were much suspected of not wanting Newman’s remains to stay with those of his lover/boyfriend, Father Ambrose St John. The church’s plans were thwarted when they got to the grave, because there were no bones. They’d vanished into the earth, so Newman’s bones and those of Ambrose St John are united for ever. (See “Dem bones, dem bones, dem gay bones” and “Dem bones, dem bones, dem gone bones” for the background.)

The online UK Gay News tells us:

The documents show that [Jack Straw’s] Ministry of Justice worked in close cooperation with the Catholic Church to deflect criticism of the reburial plans, which violated Cardinal Newman’s expressed wish to remain buried with the man he loved for over 30 years, Father Ambrose St John,” said Mr Tatchell.

“They reveal high level collusion between the government and the Catholic Church, including devising a ‘Media Plan’ to rebut criticisms.

“It is now apparent that the Ministry of Justice was initially slow and hesitant about granting the licence and delayed a decision until July this year,” Mr Tatchell continued.

“It took repeated emails from Peter Jennings of the Catholic Church, and reference to the concerns of the Vatican, to get ministerial authorisation.

“The licence application was approved by Catholic Justice Minister, Bridget Prentice MP, which raises conflict-of-interest issues.

“Did she show unwarranted favouritism towards the Vatican-backed request for the reburial of Newman?” he asked.

“Most of the FOI documents are heavily censored, with whole pages blacked out. This suggests the Ministry of Justice has something hide.

“Nevertheless, we can see that the Catholic Church subjected the government to constant and strenuous lobbying to get its way.

“Fifty-five documents concerning legal advice have been withheld. Other documents have been suppressed by the Justice Minister [Jack Straw] under Section 36 of the FOI, which concerns ‘Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs’. The government has declined to state the content of the suppressed documents.

“Answers to my FOI application to the Ministry of Justice took much longer than the 20-day rule. I had to make repeated reminders to get them released.”

Turning to Cardinal Newman’s sexuality and relationship with Ambrose St John, Mr Tatchell said: “All the evidence from the letters and diaries suggests that Newman and St John had a passionate, long-term, same-sex relationship.

“No one can know for certain whether their relationship included sexual intimacy and affection; possibly not.”

But, of course, nutty Catholics will conveniently forget Newman and St John’s relationship, or will sanctify it with mumbo-jumbo talk of “higher love”. Well, yes, there will very likely have been a “higher love” (whatever that is) between them, but, if we’re to believe what we’re told, they had a love relationship in the sense that we know it. Possibly they kept to their vows and didn’t actually, you know, do it, but there it was.

Two men.

In love.


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