Oscar Wilde, whose torrid affair with Lord Alfred Douglas scandalized Britain in the 19th century has won an endorsement from the Vatican.
In a review of a new study, The Portrait of Oscar Wilde by Italian writer Paolo Gulisano, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said that Wilde was much more than “an aesthete and a lover of the ephemeral.”
“What a surprise!” La Repubblica said. “A homosexual icon has been accepted by the Vatican.” Orazio La Rocca, a Vatican watcher, described the book as a bombshell.
The paper added that Wilde was often celebrated by “the gay world” as an example of an artist persecuted because of his homosexuality. But he was also “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false.”
Two years ago, some of Wilde’s best known aphorism were included in a book of witticisms for Christians collated by the Vatican’s head of protocol, Father Leonardo Sapienza. The book includes: “I can resist everything except temptation”, and “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
Hardly orthodox Catholic teaching.
Father Sapienza said that he had devoted the lion’s share of Provocations: Aphorisms for an Anti-conformist Christianity to Wilde because he was a “writer who lived perilously and somewhat scandalously but who has left us with some razor-sharp maxims with a moral.”
Father Sapienza said that he wanted to “stimulate a reawakening in certain Catholic circles.” “Our role,” said Fr. Sapienza, “is to be a thorn in the flesh, to move people’s consciences and to tackle what today is the No. 1 enemy of religion–indifference.”
Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and they had two sons, but in 1891 he began a relationship with the much younger Lord Alfred Douglas.
In April 1895, Wilde sued Douglas’ father, the Marquis of Queensberry, for libel, after the Marquis had accused him of being a sodomite. Wilde lost, and after salacious details of his private life were revealed during the trial, was arrested and tried for gross indecency. He was sentenced to two years of hard labor in Reading Gaol.
The way for Wilde’s rehabilitation by the Vatican was paved six years ago by Jesuit theologian, Father Antonio Spadaro. On the centenary of Wilde’s death, he raised eyebrows by praising the “understanding of God’s love” that followed Wilde’s imprisonment in Reading.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854 to a Protestant family but became attracted to Catholicism at Oxford. In 1877 he made the journey to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Pius IX, but declared: “To go over to Rome would be to sacrifice and give up my two great Gods: Money and Ambition.”
During his time in prison he read the works of St. Augustine, Dante and Newman. When he was released in 1897, with his reputation destroyed and in frail health, he moved to Paris. He was received into the Catholic Church shortly before he died, three years later.
L’Osservatore Romano described the writer’s conversion as a “long and difficult path”…”a path which led him to convert to Catholicism, a religion which, as he remarked in one of his more acute and paradoxical aphorisms, was “for saints and sinners alone–for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.”