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.