Catholic Church to Exhume Cardinal Newman’s Body

The Catholic Church has been granted a license to exhume the body of Cardinal John Henry Newman, according to the August 24, 2008 print issue of Our Sunday Visitor.
Cardinal Newman’s cause for sainthood was opened 50 years ago. Officials at the Vatican in April of this year ruled that a healing in 2001 was the result of Newman’s intercession. The patient, Deacon Jack Sullivan of Marshfield, Massachusetts, suffered from a serious spinal disorder. After praying to the cardinal, he was reportedly cured.

Newman’s cause is expected to advance when the committee of theological consultors convenes again on September 30. Should they determine that the healing was in fact a miracle, their conclusion goes forward to the Vatican’s sainthood congregation. The next leg in the journey involves confirmation of the consultors’ findings by the sainthood congregation, then the Pope. Once the cause has passed these hurdles, the cardinal can be beatified and called “blessed.”

Cardinal Newman is presently buried in a grave in a small cemetery in a suburban area outside Birmingham, England. The Church wants to transfer his remains to a marble sarcophagus located in a church inside the city so that pilgrims will have an opportunity to venerate them.

A 19th-century British law forbids transferring bodies from graves to church tombs. As a result, when the Church first applied for a license to exhume the cardinal’s body, it encountered difficulties.

The original plan was to secure the license by August 11, which marked the 118th anniversary of Newman’s death in 1890. However, approval was delayed for several months due to the old law. The British Ministry of Justice decided to make a special exception to the legislation to permit the exhumation to proceed.

Now that the Archdiocese of Birmingham has finally received the license, it plans to keep the date of the exhumation a secret. However, it will undoubtedly occur before December, when Vatican watchers expect Pope Benedict XVI to announce Cardinal Newman’s beatification.

In 1991, Newman was declared “venerable.” Originally an Anglican, he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1845, in his mid-40s. Before he rose through the ecclesiastical ranks en route to being named a cardinal, he was a major figure in the Oxford movement, which sought to bring the Anglican Church back to its Roman Catholic roots.

Born in London, he was the oldest of a banker. He attended Oxford University and at one point, held Calvinist beliefs. During a long illness, he developed an interest in and began reading the history of the Church fathers. These readings were considered one of the most important influences in his formation as a Roman Catholic.

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