How Benedict XVI and Leo XIII were inspired by Newman

Catholic Herald, 10 October 2019

Given his seclusion, it is hard to know what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI thinks about what is going on around him, but it is safe to say that the last few weeks must have been painful. His fellow Germans are now defiantly setting out towards a national synod which will damage their communion with the Universal Church, despite public warnings from Pope Francis himself.

As pope, Benedict advanced an authentic Christian environmentalism, but he never imagined that what appeared to be pagan ecological rituals – coram Pontifice (before the pope) – would arrive on his doorstep in the Vatican gardens on the eve of the Amazon synod.

All the more then will Benedict be consoled by the canonisation of Cardinal John Henry Newman. It was for Newman, after all, that Benedict broke his own custom of delegating others to do beatifications. He went to Birmingham himself to declare Newman Blessed and built one of the most important trips of his pontificate around it.

But Benedict is not the only former pope who will take particular joy in Newman’s sainthood. So too (one presumes from his heavenly station) will Pope Leo XIII.

Indeed, Newman’s canonisation may be thought of as something of a proxy for two popes who are unlikely to be raised to the altars, Leo XIII and Benedict himself. There is no Cause for Leo, and it will take decades before the great abdication of 2013 – utterly without precedent in the entire history of the Church – can be calmly evaluated to judge whether it meets the criterion of a heroic exercise of virtue.

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