The following is taken from "The sad demise of celibate love" by Jack Valero (THE GUARDIAN, 8th. July 2010):

Now, it is impossible to know what struggles went on in Newman's heart; but had he been asked, he would have found the question very strange. For him, the idea of "being homosexual" would have been an unfamiliar and even pointless categorisation; what mattered was what people did. And on that question, Newman's contemporaries and modern biographers all agree: the author of the Apologia Pro Vita Sua never broke his vow of celibacy. His friendships may have been intense and emotional – but they were consistently chaste.

Aged 16, Newman had a "deep imagination" that "it would be the will of God that I should lead a single life". As an Anglican he did not disdain marriage, and thought it a good thing for most people: "I think that country parsons ought, as a general rule, to be married – and I am sure the generality of men ought, whether parsons or not." But he himself was a dedicated celibate, as both an Anglican and (from his mid-40s) a Catholic priest. For Newman this was a state of life that allowed him to love God with a wholehearted focus – but also to love many others intensely, in the pattern laid down by Jesus.

This kind of celibate love has challenged most ages, but ours seems to have given up the struggle altogether. Such love, if it is directed towards one other of the same gender, is now assumed to be homosexual – conditioned by homoerotic attraction, even if not acted upon – or if it does not have a particular object will be thought of as disembodied devotion, like the love of an idealist for the human race as a whole (but not necessarily for individual members of it).

Do we – can we – today applaud such friendship? Do we – can we – make room, now, for such "evidences of sweet brotherly love"? Men and women often have intense friendships with members of their own sex, friendships that have no sexual component; yet we are losing the vocabulary to speak about them, or we are embarrassed to do so. A "friend" is one you add to a social networking profile on the web; or it is a euphemism for a sexual partner outside marriage. Can a man nowadays own up with pride to having a dear and close friend, another man to whom he is devoted? Can he, without it being suspected as repressed homosexuality? I fear the answer to both may be "no". And it is hard to know which is the sadder.

COMMENT: There is one thing in Valero's article that I do agree with. In England we are extremely prone nowadays to assume that two men, or women (but slightly less so), living together are a gay couple. When I was a kid I knew quite a few same sex couples who lived together, some of them were related, but not all of them. At that time the chances that the arrangement was simply for companionship or for financial reasons was just as great as the couple being in a sexual relationship. Heck, when I first ran off to London at the age of nineteen I lived with another bloke for a while simply because it was the only way we could afford a place to live. In fact, at that time it was considered more scandalous for a man and woman, who were not married to each other, to live together than for two young people of the same sex to share accommodation. The modern, puerile poking of noses into other people's business has, no doubt, led to a lot of loneliness and financial hardship.

However, I think Valero makes assumptions elsewhere in his article that are lazy. No academic would ever state that Newman did not have a physical relationship with another man during his lifetime. Most would say that there is absolutely no proof that he did, and they would be right. Most believe that he most probably didn't. However, that is not the same as saying that he definitely didn't.

Secondly, I think sexuality plays a role in all relationships, same sex "platonic" friendships and familial relationships included. You simply cannot put sex into one box and friendship into another. Our brains do not work like that. For example, the instinct in humans to form hierarchies is, to an extent, a sexual urge. This is more obvious in pack animals, such as dogs, as I have observed first hand recently. To split the platonic and the sexual in such a way as Valero does lessens the worth of the beautiful complexity of personality and makes it easier for bigots to create hate objects.

Finally, I have come across the statement that for people of Newman's time "the idea of "being homosexual" would have been an unfamiliar and even pointless categorisation." I may have alluded to it myself in the past. But I've been thinking about it lately and I have come to the conclusion that it is a load of bollocks. I think it is extremely arrogant of us to project such ignorance onto our forebears. Newman was an intelligent man in a single sex university. Of course, he knew what being homosexual was all about, even if he didn't use our terminology or have the same physiological information regarding the sexual tendency that we have nowadays. Of course, he philosophically believed that sexual relationships between two men, and any other unmarried couple, was sinful and scandalous (you only have to check out his reaction to the publication of Richard Hurrel Froude's "Remains" to see how worried he was that the Oxford Movement should become associated with homosexuality). But, this proves that he had a definite understanding that some men were attracted to other men.

The Victorians did not invent homosexuality when they made it illegal in England. There was never a "golden age" of non sexual platonic love. Gay people have always known they were gay even if it confused the hell out of them, and there has always been a name for it.

It will only be when we stop giving a damn about the difference between platonic and sexual love and accept the right of all people to be who they are sexually without fear of persecution that we will come  to a more Christlike understanding of ourselves. Splitting the platonic from the sexual, with the implication that the platonic is somehow more wholesome and normal, delays the coming of this day of enlightenment.



  1. As usual an excellent analysis MP.

    The only thing I could add is that there is another assumption in the article that celibacy is simply a choice, freely taken.

    To do that there has to be a degree of honesty and integration of one’s own sexuality (whatever that might be) and that is where all too often it goes wrong. Too many are forced into that path because they are coerced into it to minister to others or because someone else has decided their orientation is ‘disordered’. In these situations celebacy can be far from healthy and indeed become pathological.

    Celebacy as a free choice can be liberating, or so some of my friends tell me – personally I’m of the Dirty Harry approach: a man’s gotta know his limitations 😉 . On the other hand, celebacy imposed can be stultifying and destructive. Until the day when power games are erased from the Church I fear too many people will be forced to be ‘mini-Newmans’ to please the bigots at the top.


  2. I agree, Harrytic. In fact, the compartmentalisation of celibacy is as bad as the compartmentalisation of the platonic and physical expressions of love/friendship, in that it is contrary to the holistic nature of the mental processes that inform human relationships. They may not say so out loud, but deliberate celibates have a very annoying habit of believing celibacy to be “better” than sex. In reality, and as in Newman’s case, celibacy is just part of the very fluid rainbow of human relationship types that is usually suffered for pragmatic, phobic or accidental reasons. To choose any expression of sexuality as a permanent and only state is similar to buying a computer and only using it for word processing. Or, in the case of deliberate celibates, never turning it on.

  3. Insightful analysis.

    I think that we forget that our sexuality will always be with us. It’s part of who we are. For those who take on celibacy voluntarily, they have to acknowledge that they are still sexual beings.

    When I was living in a house with three other guys, I had deep affection for one of them. He was straight and was very supportive of me. I never hid the fact that I loved him that way, and it honestly became a great source of strength and depth in our friendship. I still love him and probably always will. It definitely hurt at times knowing that he and I could never be boyfriends and I will admit I cried about it, but there is a freedom knowing that even if I cannot have him for myself, I can always love him.

  4. Thank you, John Julian. Your account of your unrequited relationship with Mr X is helpful and courageous, but not surprising coming from yourself. What is required is for people to acknowledge the sexual element in non-physical relationships with people whatever their primary sexual drive. For example, I suggest that there is a sexual element in hero worship even when the worshipper or fan has no conscious thoughts of a physical relationship with their hero. This is most obvious in our adolescent years, and let’s face it, adulthood is probably best defined as the period of period of life during which a human being tries to suppress everything they have learned and experienced during pre-adulthood.

  5. The Victorians didn’t make homosexuality per se illegal, that dates all the way back to Henry VIII, but I’m sure you know that, Mad Priest, and were just suggesting it was the Victorians for “nuance”. Ahem. To be fair the sodomy law of 1533 was technically aimed at heterosexual couples as well (not that it really got used against them, however). Also, the Victorians did bring in a new and deliberately vague charge prohibiting “gross indecency” between males, which was used if they couldn’t prove sodomy (and which is what sent Oscar Wilde to prison). However the Victorians also made the punishment for anyone convicted of sodomy lighter – it was a hanging offence up till 1861. The laws against homosexuality are sometimes mistakenly ascribed to Oliver Cromwell so it’s refreshing to hear the Victorians blamed instead.

  6. Yes, it was rather technical, wasn’t it. At least it had the virtue of being accurate (more or less).

  7. At least it had the virtue of being accurate

    That may be a virtue in some places, Cathy. But it has never counted for much around here. This is entertainment not the bleeding Financial Times.

  8. This is entertainment not the bleeding Financial Times.

    Okey dokey Mad Priest, next time I shall take a leaf out of your book when it comes to history and just make the whole thing up.

    wv – wines!!

    Blogger is watching me again.

  9. Only when history is boring, Cathy. For goodness sake, I thought you was a journalist! I shouldn’t have to be teaching you the basics of good reportage.

  10. Ah, but I don’t find the history of attitudes to homosexuality boring, you see. I am completely gripped by it. There’s the catch.

  11. Are you calling me a pedant? I am deeply, deeply flattered.

    BTW, Mad Priest, I didn’t know you ran away to London at 19. North, south, east or west London, if you don’t mind my asking? … And how long did you stand it for before you left again? Just curious.

  12. I wrote about that Valero article over on TA.

    Assuming both J. Newman and A. St.John had taken vows of celibacy, then it would be the business of their bishop/superior(s) whether they were sexual together.

    Otherwise, it’s certainly not OUR business.

    From Newman’s writings, it is permissable to say that he was (to use the anachronistic term) “gay” (or “homosexual”) and that he and St.John were a “gay couple”—REGARDLESS of whether their intimacy was sexual or not.

    [The “-sexual” in “homosexual” has nothing to do w/ sexual intercourse! @sshats like Valero always confuse the two—because it’s in their homophobic interests to do so. >:-/]

  13. Otherwise, it’s certainly not OUR business.

    I disagree. As both of them are dead I think the greater good would be achieved by us knowing for certain rather than respecting their privacy.

    We don’t know. But it is not impossible for something to come to light at a later date.

    Perhaps if we excavated their real grave we might get more information. But then that would be crass.

  14. Mad Priest – interesting!! My own take on London is it is utterly infuriating to live here in some ways and yet fabulous in others.

    JCF – interesting too – I’ll go over to TA and have a look at your article when I get a mo.

  15. London would be great if it was full of Geordies and not Londoners. I found Londoners to be rude on the whole, pushy and arrogant.

    when I get a mo

    Well, if you really want one, you’ve come to the right place. We have some of the best.

  16. Despite the fact that I’ve lived here for a decade I have no friends who are born and bred Londoners. My mates are either Australian, from up north (Yorkshire), down south (Cornwall) or Irish. But then I think London is essentially an immigrant city. I don’t meet too many people who have lived all their lives here.

    I’d love a mo, and sideburns, big bushy ones, thanks.

  17. Given real estate prices and rents, I daresay that any person under 25 living solo in a market rate London or NYC flat is a “trust funder” or otherwise filthy rich. Normal youth in first jobs in high-cost cities have roommates.

    The article does bring up one of the toxic stereotypes of (American-style) “manliness”, that Real Men only have competitors, not close friends, and that only Losers admit any doubt or weakness when talking to other men. I don’t know whether the basic ideology is due to homophobia or simply misogynistic posturing – I suspect that the latter is the real issue.