A Catholic bishop investigating GK Chesterton’s eligibility for sainthood has cited longstanding allegations of antisemitism against the author as a reason to rule it out.
Peter Doyle, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Northampton, reached his conclusion after a year-long investigation.
The author, who wrote 80 books including the Father Browne detective series, was born into the Church of England but became a Catholic 14 years before his death aged 62 in 1936.
According to Catholic media, Bishop Doyle wrote to the president of an American society who has advocated Chesterton’s canonisation to say that he could not support it on several grounds.
They included the lack of a local cult venerating the writer as well as of a “pattern of a personal spirituality”.
Thirdly, the bishop, said, “even allowing for the context of G K Chesterton’s time, the issue of antisemitism is a real obstacle, particularly at this time in the United Kingdom”.
In his Short History of England, Chesterton described medieval English Jews as the “capitalists of their age” and Edward I’s expulsion of them as the act of “a tender father of their people”.
In The New Jerusalem, he argued that Jews could never be loyal to the countries in which they lived, even suggesting they should wear distinctive dress.
But Dr Dale Ahlquist, president of the USA-based Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, rejected the charge of antisemitism.
In response to Bishop Doyle’s decision, he defended the writer’s reputation, saying that he had physically defended Jews and spoken out repeatedly against their persecution.
“ A man who… said ‘The world owes God to the Jews,’ and ‘I will die defending the last Jew in Europe,’ should not have this poisonous epithet anywhere near his good name,” Dr Ahlquist was quoted as saying by the Catholic journal The Tablet.
While acknowledging the writer had occasionally said things “awkward” by modern standards, he said the sensitivity of the issue should not stand in the way of canonisation.