From Mr Robert Gray SIR – Fr Ian Ker (Letters, Oct 21) writes that Manning’s letter to Rome in support of Newman being made a cardinal was “virtually dictated” to him by the leading Catholic peers.
There are several objections to this view. In the first place, by 1878, the time of the letter, Manning had been Archbishop of Westminster for 13 years, and certainly did not take kindly to being dictated to by any English Catholic, of whatever social distinction. His weakness was for power, not for titles; and since he had been prepared to antagonise his old friend Mr Gladstone as Prime Minister, he certainly would not have baulked at resisting the Duke of Norfolk and his aristocratic cronies.
On the other hand, if, as Fr Ker suggests, Manning considered it necessary to propose Newman’s elevation in order to avoid a split in the Church in England, that was entirely to his credit. And certainly the letter he wrote to Rome was generous – so much so that the wording – “there is no one [but Newman] whose name will stand out in history with so great a prominence” – inspired a tactful demurral from Lord Petre.
Fr Ker, however, asks us to believe that Manning, having recommended Newman’s promotion to Rome on grounds of policy, was subsequently prepared to undermine that policy by attempting to foil the process which he himself had originally helped to forward.
No doubt, Manning was guilty of “a certain wishful thinking” in interpreting Newman’s letter as a refusal of the Red Hat – though I would consider this an obvious deduction, not, as Fr Ker terms it, “the charitable view”. I would also hazard that Manning may have been irritated by the elaborate charade of correspondence which Newman and Ullathorne concocted for saying “Yes, please” with a display of the best possible taste.
But “wishful thinking” is a very long way from deliberate intention. Does Fr Ker, does Conrad Black, really believe that, if Manning had planned to subvert Newman’s cardinalate, he could have come up with no better scheme than failing to forward to Rome the letter which Ullathorne wrote to elucidate Newman’s equivocal response to the prospect of the Hat? The Archbishop of Westminster was a brilliant man, usually represented by his enemies as employing Machiavellian subtlety to achieve his ends; in this instance, though, he is accused of suddenly indulging the most naive and useless piece of plotting imaginable.
Indeed, in Fr Ker’s version, Manning gets stupider and stupider. By informing the Duke of Norfolk that Newman had refused the cardinalate, he gave his presumed adversaries early warning, and allowed them, without the slightest difficulty, to put matters to rights.
In sum, if Manning’s deeper purpose was to deny Newman the Hat, his manner of proceeding must be rated not merely inconsistent, but self-defeating and ridiculous. These are not adjectives generally applied to his behaviour, least of all by his detractors.
Yours faithfully, ROBERT GRAY London W11