Burford, Oxon From Mr Donal McMahon SIR – I enjoyed reading Conrad Black’s article on John Henry Newman. One sentence, however, in his account of Newman’s experience in Ireland with the Catholic University brought me up short: “His effort to found a Catholic university in Dublin was sabotaged by the very parties who had most to gain from it, the narrow-minded custodians of insular Irish victim-Catholicism, which are not extinct, even today.” I was puzzled by and am still puzzling over the phrase “narrow-minded custodians of insular Irish victimCatholicism”.
Echoing Charles Kingsley’s words in the controversy that gave rise to the Apologia, I find myself asking: “What, then, does Mr Black mean?” Above all, it is the supposed contemporary relevance of the phrase that leaves me perplexed: “even today”.
Who were the custodians in question here, one wonders. It is certainly the case that Newman had strained relations with two powerful Churchmen of the time, Archbishops Cullen and MacHale. And what do the words “victim-Catholicism” mean? Am I to understand that there are Irish bishops even today showing evidence of some kind of victimhood in their role of custodians of the faith? What might this mean exactly?
There are, of course, if not books (eg Louis McRedmond’s Thrown Among Strangers, 1990), then chapters of books on this period in Newman’s life. Like all subjects that writers try to clarify and summarise, the Catholic University is a complex one and difficult of summary for a general article. I feel Mr Black’s summary falls short and, instead, would like to propose this one by Newman himself: “I have experienced nothing but kindness and attention, of which I am quite unworthy, from every class of persons in Ireland whom I have come across. I make no exception, except Dr Cullen and Dr MacHale.” Yours faithfully, DONAL McMAHON Saggart, Co Dublin