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Pope Benedict trip: Why move John Henry Newman toward sainthood?

Pope Benedict XVI plans on Sunday during his state visit to Britain to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, who converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism.

By Staff Writer / September 17, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI intends to beatify 19th Century Anglican convert Cardinal John Henry Newman, shown here in this undated portrait, in a move that could unleash new tensions among churches already divided over issues like the ordination of women and gay bishops.

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The state visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain has placed him with the queen, prime minister, and given him a prized platform to argue for a deeper religious meaning in an overtly secular land.

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Yet the culmination and purpose of Pope Benedict's trip is Sunday when he will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman in a huge celebration in Birmingham, England.

Cardinal Newman, a 19th century writer and theologian, is a convert from the Anglican Church who made being British and being Catholic acceptable, scholars say. He was made a cardinal at the age of 80.

His “doctrine of development” argued that theological ideas evolve into new manifestations. Newman retained skepticism of papal infallibility, famously saying, “Drink to the Pope, if you please, still, to conscience first.”

The pope's trip to beatify a star convert to Catholicism comes at a sensitive time for British Anglicans. The church is bitterly divided over gay marriage, female priests, and religious authority. Traditionalist Anglicans, such the writer GP Taylor, have converted to Catholicism, and the Anglican bishops of Rochester and Chichester have threatened to leave.

Last fall the pope shocked the Anglican establishment by announcing that large chunks of their “disillusioned” faithful could convert to the Roman Catholic Church; clergy could stay married.

The sudden offer, made after Vatican meetings with Anglicans behind the back of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was described by Oxford church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch as destroying decades of careful ecumenical work.

“As in various other controversial personal initiatives of his pontificate, to do with Muslims or condoms in Africa, the pope has jumped into a delicate situation regardless of consultation with those in the Vatican who have charge of such matters,” Mr. MacCulloch wrote in the Guardian.

Archbishop Williams told Vatican radio after a meeting with the pope that he didn’t think the Vatican was conducting a “dawn raid” on the Anglican communion but said he wished he had been consulted prior to the announcement.

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