Pope approves Mass. miracle, sets stage for a cardinal’s beatification

By Nicole Winfield
Associated Press / July 4, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

VATICAN CITY - Cardinal John Henry Newman, an influential 19th-century Anglican theologian who converted to Roman Catholicism, moved a step closer to possible sainthood yesterday after the pope approved a miracle in Massachusetts attributed to his intercession.

Pope Benedict XVI ruled that the recovery of a Marshfield, Mass., resident who for years suffered from a spinal disorder was miraculous, meaning Newman can now be beatified. A second miracle is necessary for him to be declared a saint - an event which, if it happens, would make Newman the first English-born saint since the Reformation.

The miracle concerns the medically inexplicable cure of John “Jack’’ Sullivan, a Catholic deacon in Marshfield who suffered from debilitating back pain for years but was cured after praying to Newman.

In a statement, Sullivan said he was filled “with an intense sense of gratitude and thanksgiving’’ over learning that Newman would now be beatified.

“I have dedicated my vocation in praise of Cardinal Newman, who even now directs all my efforts,’’ Sullivan said in the statement, which was issued by Newman’s community, Birmingham Oratory in Britain.

The Archdiocese of Boston, which investigated the cure and sent its findings to the Vatican, responded: “We are honored to have played some small part in this blessed announcement,’’ said Terry Donilon, spokesman.

Newman, a hero to many Anglicans and Catholics alike, was one of the founders of the so-called Oxford Movement of the 1830s, which sought to revive certain Roman Catholic doctrines in the Church of England by looking back to the traditions of the earliest Christian church. Anglicans split from Rome in 1534 when King Henry VIII was refused a marriage annulment.

Newman “was extraordinarily important in helping the Anglican Church in finding its identity,’’ said Cynthia McFarland, managing editor of the Anglicans Online website.

In 1841, Newman published a paper demonstrating that the Thirty-Nine Articles, the doctrinal statements of the Church of England, were consistent with Catholicism. Amid the outcry from Anglicans, Newman retired, and in 1845 joined the Roman Catholic Church. A year later he was ordained a Catholic priest.

Monsignor Mark Langham, the Vatican official in charge of relations with Anglicans, said Newman was also a “key figure’’ for Catholics. Newman anticipated by some 100 years the ideas about the church’s place in the world that were articulated during the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that brought many liberalizing changes to the church.

“Because so many of his ideas anticipate Vatican II, he is seen as something of a trailblazer in opening up the Roman Catholic Church to the world and the wider sense of its obligations to other Christians,’’ Langham said.

No date has been set for the beatification ceremony.

In addition to Newman, Benedict sent 11 other people along the path to possible sainthood yesterday.