Cardinal John Henry Newman, an influential 19th-century Anglican theologian who converted to Roman Catholicism, has moved a step closer to possible sainthood after the pope approved a miracle attributed to his intercession. Pope Benedict XVI ruled on Friday that the recovery of a Boston-area 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.
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 English King Henry VIII was refused a marriage annulment.
"He was extraordinarily important in helping the Anglican church in finding its identity," said Cynthia McFarland, managing editor of the Anglicans Online Web site.
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 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. 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 reforms 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 told The Associated Press.
Many theologians, Benedict chief among them, "hold him in very high esteem as one of the great minds," he added. The miracle approved Friday by the pope concerns the medically inexplicable cure of John "Jack" Sullivan, 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, the Birmingham Oratory in Britain.
The Archdiocese of Boston, which investigated the cure and sent its findings onto the Vatican, said: "We are honored to have played some small part in this blessed announcement," spokesman Terry Donilon said.
The Archbishop of Westminster, His Grace Vincent Nichols, who was instrumental in pushing the beatification cause forward, said Newman's beatification would "help us greatly in the task of protecting the faith amidst the difficulties he foresaw so clearly."
McFarland said Newman's conversion was "the logical end to his exploration" into the origins of the church.
At the time, there was a sense of great loss within the Church of England, if not betrayal, that such a charismatic and brilliant figure had left for Rome. But as Anglican-Catholic relations improved over time "there has been a joint claim to his extraordinary life as being important to both of our churches," she 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 Friday.
He confirmed that two Spanish priests were martyred during anti-Catholic persecution in Franco's Spain the 1930s and that a German priest was killed for "hatred of the faith" in the Dachau concentration camp in 1942. He recognized the "heroic virtues" of another Dachau victim, the first step toward possible beatification. According to the Vatican's procedures, people who die as martyrs for the faith don't need a miracle attributed to their intercession to be beatified. A miracle is needed to be canonized.