License to move the body...

I check in daily with the Anglican Journal, an "editorially independent" newspaper / blog in the Anglican Church of Canada. For the last few days the following was the lead headline, "British government grants licence to move body of Cardinal Newman."

Each time I read it I think to myself, what a strange business, the Government "granting license" for the church to exhume a body and remount the remains somewhere else. What is the Government doing being in this shifting of deck chairs? If the ship is going to make it to port, who cares if the bodies are shifted around. If it is not, shifting the bodies might seem to help, but in the end it may be in God's providence that all are lost after all. Why does the Government have to grant license to move the bones of Cardinal Newman?

Cardinal Newman is on his way to being Saint John Henry Newman, known as St. John Henry I suppose, which will make Americans laugh out loud, John Henry being a saint of another order. St. John Henry Newman is of course the Mad Priest's mirror, and his picture is on the MadPriest's blog, with the title, "MadPriest." But does that require either that his bones be moved for the proper veneration by the people? If so why is Government license needed?

We can hope moving the good Cardinal's bones will not disturb his gracious self. But I can't help feeling it is no good doing this. Where our bones are is nothing to be compared with the delight of where we ARE, now or then. Oh well.

The courts of Virginia are slowly grinding the legal grain and moving closer to trial between Truro Church and the Diocese of Virginia and friends in October. Each ruling in the run up to the trial causes wise ones on the blog to cast the runes and read the stalks concerning the implications for the trial outcome. The readings of the future are never very useful, for the simple reason that in matters of the Law, "it ain't over 'til it's over."

Each ruling gives rise to new cries from the realignment churches in Virginia that litigation cease. The cry to cease litigation is an odd one, given that there is no way in the world that the parent church offering sanctuary (Nigeria) will cease and desist in forming new congregations and convocations to the end that there will be a new Anglican Province in North America.

As I understand it, and I could very definitely be wrong, given the strange working of Virginia law, Truro claims the right as a congregation to determine its own future wider church affiliation when there has been a matter of division in the congregation. On the other hand Truro is willing to forgo it's congregational status in joining the Church of Nigeria which is an hierarchical church if there ever was one. If Truro were by intention congregational, then its alignment with Nigeria would be proof of intentions put aside. So in the midst of this lawsuit which posits the congregation's authority to divide and conquer, the same congregation is joining the Church of Nigeria which is not congregational at all. There have been some promises made that CANA can run its own show, but I wouldn't put much of a bet on that.

As with the moving of Cardinal Newman's bones, I wonder just why the Government of Viriginia thinks moving the bones of the church from one jurisdiction to another is any of its business at all. Should Virginia be granting license for a congregation to change its affiliation if in doing so that congregation loses the independent status that made it possible to claim congregational rights in the first place? I don't think so.

Well, the bones are in play. Poor ol' Cardinal Newman. No rest for the dead. And about Truro, who knows? It is a lively congregation it appears but pretty congregational. My sense is it will one day be a disappointment to the Church of Nigeria because too congregational.

Meanwhile, of course, Cardinal Newman is in God's hands, as is Truro Church, the Episcopal Church and as are we all. Checking in on the movements as things are shuffled around keeps some of us off the streets at night, but not much else.


  1. um, exhumation is a Big Deal.

    first off, the owner of a graveyard--whether church or not--surely does not have the right to move bones around at will.

    the church does not own the body, anymore than any other graveyard owner does.

    and, of course, the law must be extremely careful about the moving of bodies. in california, it is illegal to leave a dead body alone. (that is, the hospital, mortuary, morgue, etc, cannot allow a dead body to be alone with anyone who is not "official".) this was impressed upon us at CPE, since at my site on-call chaplains are required to arrange viewings for family members who wish it. we are not permitted to allow the family to be alone with the body.

    the body is not their possession, it is not the church's possession, it is not anyone's possession.

    and, believing as we do in the resurrection of the body, the care and respect we take of bodies is a sign of our faith that the body is not a mere shell, it is the person.

    indeed, i just finished reading a sermon by the very selfsame John Henry Newman on this point. and there was a very nice discussion over at Creedal Christian here: http://creedalchristian.blogspot.com/2008/08/singing-against-faith-of-church.html.

    when you say, "where our bones are is nothing to be compared with the delight of where we ARE, now or then", i wonder if you think the bones are essentially irrelevant.

  2. We can hope moving the good Cardinal's bones will not disturb his gracious self. But I can't help feeling it is no good doing this.

    ABSOLUTELY No Good---to separate JHN from his life-partner, Ambrose St. John. :-(

    Lord have mercy!

  3. Mark, I believe that you misunderstand the claim of the Virginia parishes. They are not claiming to have the right to realign because there is a split in the parish. Nor are they claiming to be a congregation polity. They claim under Virginia law to have the right to realign, and take their property with them, because of a split in the regional/national church, TEC, a hierarchical church, by way of a split in the Anglican Communion itself.

    Although they also clam that neither TEC nor Dio Virginia have ever held title to their buildings, but that their own trustees hold such title.

  4. In a piece called "On the Future", Karl Rahner once went to great lengths, as usual, to say more simply, "We cannot know the future." It's the one piece of Roman Catholic writing that I, without reservation, take to heart. Knowing the future is, precisely, to know the mind of God. To know the provisional future, however, is the prophet's job. What say ye? Where is part II of the essay? How are the bones cast at this time in history? The worst you can do is to be wrong. I think the big move happens on All Saints Day. ocicbw

  5. Mark, this is off-topic, but your intro took me to the Anglican Journal site, where there's an item saying that Saskatchewan bishop Anthony Burton will be taking up a new post as rector of the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. I don't know where Bishop Burton stands on the Anglican political spectrum, but he is Bishop in a country where same sex marriage has been legal for years, and he "had previously been considered for a post in the Episcopal Church in 2004, when he was a candidate in the diocese of San Diego’s episcopal election". What does this say about Dallas? (What does it say about San Diego?)
    - Denbeau (Toronto)

  6. What each of these actions shares, at its base, is homophobia. The Vatican wishes to "straighten out" Newman and separate him--against his express wishes--from the man he loved above all others on earth. The Virginia parishes--or at least their leaders--wish to use homophobia for their own personal gain.

    I pray God will sort this out, and eventually ease this institutional homophobia which divides our church.

  7. I have wondered the same about Truro's (and Falls Church and all the others) congregationalism while joining an extremely hierarchical church. On one hand, they do claim that the "oversight" of foreign bishops is only temporary until the recognition of a new province in North America.

    Of course, that's not going to happen. Besides, do you really think Nigeria, Uganda, etc. are really going to let their new cash cows go free? And I find it hard to believe that they'd simply let them do their own thing forever. Eventually, they're going to start appointing clergy whether or not the congregation likes it, imposing the Nigeria's prayer book, and so on. Maybe it's just me, but I get the feeling they're really playing each other, and it's only a matter of time before fighting erupts.

    Am I totally off base in this?

  8. Mark, An overlooked issue in Cardinal Newman's case, is that he was buried by his personal request with his lifelong male companion. This was documented in a number of UK sites when the removal was first mentioned. [Sorry I don't have them at hand presently.] The RC Church appears anxious to remove his remains from those of his friend.
    Bob McCloskey

  9. Much of this is a rehash of posts at Grandmère Mimi and Baby Blue's sites, but this case has received relatively little attention and deserves to be more widely known.

    Regarding State court rulings on church property ownership disputes, note the rulings to date in litigation between the diocese of South Carolina and that portion of the congregation of All Saints, Pawleys Island that has chosen to dissociate itself from TEC and associate itself with the American Mission in North America, a Rwandan spin-off.

    While the case is greatly and interestingly complicated by a 1745, colonial era, deed of gift (to date the court favors the breakaway group where property covered by that deed is concerned), so far as property not covered by the deed - including physical property, monies and the name "All Saints, Pawleys Island" - Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper has ruled in favor of the continuing TEC congregation.

    Judge Cooper's decision is based upon a 1973 case which concerned the First Presbyterian Church of Rock Hill. The judge said - I quote from "The Coastal Observer" - that "the majority of members withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and united with another denomination but still wanted the church property.

    "He said the [1973] court ruled the remaining minority members owned the property and that the majority had no right to the property because they severed their relationship with the First Presbyterian Church."

    "When a division occurs in a church," Judge Cooper said, "the congregation is answered by who is the representative of the church before it split."

    The principle that "the congregation is answered by who is the representative of the church before it split" will almost certainly hold in states that do not have Virginia's 57-9 law, and will very likely be the Federal courts' last word on the Virginia case if it is appealed to the Federal court system.

    One wonders if the SC courts' rulings on church property ownership is a factor in the diocese of South Carolina's relative reticence to date on secession from TEC.

  10. And, of course, the real reason for moving the body is not, as the article says, to allow faithful pilgrims to more easily visit "Saint John Henry." Indeed, it can be found in the very last paragraph:

    "Since his death in 1890, the body of Cardinal Newman has lain next to his devoted fellow Catholic convert friend Ambrose St John, with whom he lived from 1843 until St John’s death in 1875. Cardinal Newman was profoundly affected by the death of his friend, and wrote in 1875, “I have ever thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband or a wife's, but I feel it difficult to believe that any can be greater, or any one's sorrow greater, than mine.” At Cardinal Newman's request he was buried in the same grave as Ambrose St John."

  11. Concerning the "requirement" that the remains of new-minted saints be exhumed and safely entombed in churches, displayed in glass-fronted coffins or marble sarcophagi, there is apparently no hard and fast rule. Earlier in the week I came across scans of a Roman Catholic service at the Welsh Anglican churchyard gravesite of St John Kemble (uncle at three removes of noted actress and anti-slavery diarist Fanny K.), executed 1679, canonized 1970. There is apparently no pressure or perceived need to translate the remains of this particular saint.

    My feeling where Newman is concerned is that the RC church sees his canonization as a likely "big-pull" event and feels - almost certainly rightly - that he will make a bigger splash as a cult object entombed and worshiped in the Birmingham Oratory Church (where he's headed, I believe) than in his current simple grave-plot with Ambrose St John.

    I also have no doubt that separating him from the embarrassing - to them - conjunction with Ambrose St. John, is a significant factor in the RC Church's desire to move Newman's body.

  12. As these rulings have (now consistently) shown, the Government of Virginia doesn't thinks moving a church from one jurisdiction to another is any of its business: that's the whole point. ECUSA seeks to make it Virginia's business, and thereby enlist the State as an agent to force these congregations back into an organization to which they have no desire to belong. Wisely, the judge has declined.

  13. "I also have no doubt that separating him from the embarrassing - to them - conjunction with Ambrose St. John, is a significant factor in the RC Church's desire to move Newman's body."

    Why this assumption that there's anything embarrassing at all about two intimate friends being buried together? I think we can safely assume that they're not doing anything down there that the Church accounts a sin. Indeed, I would have assumed that no Christian would imagine that either of them is in any real sense "down there" at all, at least until the last trump and the resurrection of the dead.

    I think the real embarrassment is this Calvinistic discomfort with the idea of the veneration of the relics of the saints. I understand the feeling, but that's no excuse for concluding that the "real" motivation is in "covering up" a hitherto open and innocent practice.

  14. In response to Anonymous Denbeau's question, Tony Burton is well over at the conservative end of the Canadian Anglican spectrum. Although he is an arts graduate of Trinity College, Toronto, he chose to do his divinity degree elsewhere, in part because Trinity's Anglo-Catholicism was seen as far too liberal. His arrival as Dean of Saskatchewan was engineered by the late Clyne Harradance, a prominent mover and shaker within the conservative Prayer Book Society.

    Tony was associated with the Essentials Canada, but removed himself as they began to drift towards a separatist agenda. He would probably be classed as a "Communion conservative" to use the parlance current at T19.

    That said, I was once told that, even the conservative Canadian bishops were shocked by the rampant and viscious homophobia on display at Lambeth 1998. Tony was specifically included in that reference.

    The Diocese of Saskatchewan, which constitutes the northern half of the civil province of Saskatchewan by geography, about a quarter of the province by population. Apart from my wife's hometown of Prince Albert (population ~35,000) there are no communities over 5,000. There is a large First Nations and Metis population, and Tony has learned at least enough Cree to do a blessing. A significant number of the clergy - especially the Aboriginal clergy - are non-stipendiary.

    Apart from becoming a "mere rector," I suspect the move is very good for Tony. I expect the stipend is significantly higher, and he'll have more staff as Rector of the Church of the Incarnation, Dallas than ever he had as Bishop of Saskatchewan. Plus his wife is an American.

  15. "...the Welsh Anglican churchyard gravesite of St John Kemble."

    According to my (admittedly outdated) edition of Butler's Lives of the Saints, "With the exception of the left hand, now enshrined in the Catholic church at Hereford, Bd. John's remains were buried under a flat stone in Welsh Newton churchyard...."

    Fr. Kemble was hanged, drawn and quartered at Widemarsh Common on August 22, 1679. Apparently his memorial is tomorrow.

  16. At risk of getting still further off topic, Rick, Kemble has what to me is a very enviable last (one hopes) resting place. Scans of last Sunday's pilgrimage:


  17. A very beautiful spot, indeed.

    Thanks for the photos. They really are better than a thousand words.

  18. I'm just not into corpse cults, whether Roman Catholic or Communist.


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