Cardinal Newman, Britain’s most famous Catholic convert after Tony Blair, is to have his last request overridden by the Catholic Church in a bid to make him a saint.
He was buried alongside his close friend Ambrose St John.
There has been much speculation about the nature of the relationship between the two priests.
Writing at the time of St John’s death in 1875, Newman said:
“I have ever thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband’s or a wife’s, but I feel it difficult to believe that any can be greater, or any one’s sorrow greater, than mine.”
Though Cardinal Newman was a lifelong celibate, and many scholars argue that his love for his fellow priest was merely Platonic, this move by the Catholic Church has fuelled speculation that they are embarrassed by the close nature of the friendship between the two men.
Newman and St John shared a house together and were lifelong friends. They share a tombstone with the inscription “out of shadows and phantasms into the truth” etched across it.
The Catholic Church claims the move is in preparation for his beatification, the third stage of recognition of sainthood.
His remains will be moved to a sarcophagus in Birmingham Oratory.
The larger Catholic community has expressed concern over the move.
Elena Curti, deputy editor of respected Catholic Journal The Tablet said: “It’s clearly documented that he wanted to be buried with his close friend and it’s a pity that his dying wish is not being respected.
“I’d have thought Ambrose St John could be disinterred and placed with Newman.”
Martin Prendergast, a homosexual campaigner in the Catholic Church, claimed the relationship had caused misgivings in the Vatican: “I don’t think they can just pretend the relationship didn’t exist,” he said.
An expert on Newman said the request to be buried with another man would probably not be allowed by the modern Catholic Church.
Friar Ian Ker said, “The concept of friendship has died. No one in those days would have suspected anything.”
Cardinal Newman has to have one more miracle performed in his name before he can become a saint.
Cardinal Newman, who died in 1890, set up the Catholic University of Ireland, which is now the University College Dublin.
He was a pillar of the Oxford Movement, which tried to bring the Anglican church back to its Roman Catholic roots. After this failed he converted to Roman Catholicism.
Pope Benedict XVI was presented with pictures of Cardinal Newman during a private meeting with the Blair family in 2007.
Cherie Blair is reported to have said: “I believe you are very familiar with him and he is on the journey to sainthood.”
The Pontiff responded, “Yes, yes, although it is taking some time – miracles are hard to come by in Britain.”
Tony Blair converted to Catholicism in December last year, after he left office as Prime Minister.