BROWSING over Catholic Herald issues of the past, one gains an impression of a kind of controlled anarchy, increasing with the passage of the years. Skilfully avoiding any suggestion of questioning articles of faith or morals, successive editors and their contributors have often taken a different, sometimes startling, line from that adopted by every other organ of the media on burning topics — even finding themselves at odds with members of the hierarchy!
The first numbers of what began as The Weekly Herald were heavily Irish in content and sympathy. Indeed, the first editor and founder, Charles Diamond, was sent to orison for his published contention that certain political killings of his day should not be considered as murder. But with the acquisition of the Catholic Herald by E Vernor Miles, and the appointment of Michael de la Bedoyere as editor, the paper truly — and quite suddenly — became a reflection of integrated Catholic thought and life in England — a mirror to a Catholic society unique in the world with its combination of Irish immigres, those Irish by ancestry, English recusants whose families had never relinquished the faith, cradle Catholics and a high proportion of converts.
Reverting to the first issue, one finds a delightful inconsequentiality in a paper contriving to be catholic as well as Catholic. Reports of juicy murders and worldwide tragedies jostled unexpectedly and improbably with articles on St Patrick and the League of the Cross, and an obituary of the German Emperor. "Irish events" and political comment appeared adjacent to such items as "a Gaelic-speaking Turk" and a column of allegedly funny stories to which modern standup comics have obviously had access.
A thoughtful, well-written leader on loss to the Church through child destitution, and the text of a Cardinal Manning sermon, were followed by a large advertisement for Mother Seigel's curative syrup, so worded as to convey the impression that the effects of imbibing this remarkable liquid were comparable with those of Biblical miracles.
E. Vemor Miles, proprietor 1934-66, and Michael de la Bedoyere, editor 1934-62
'A remarkable record of accurate prophecy and uncanny long term perceptivity'. Laurence Cotterell came to this verdict after casting a discerning eye over 100 years of Catholic Heralds, and he finds in pages yellow with age a message with immediate relevance for today.
Yet the copy (which would today cause a sensation among the advertising standards people) is strangely compelling, and if the producers, AJ White Ltd, of 35 Farringdon Road, still have a bottle of this cure-all available, my half-crown will be readily forthcoming!
Even in a boxing commentary a marked editorial prejudice can be detected, with the prize fight between the Irish-American, John L Sullivan and the English Charles Mitchell, being declared less an exhibition of pugilism than a display of pedestrianism, with Mitchell having only the best of the running. "Occasionally he stood up to his opponent, and either got knocked down or fell down of his own accord so as to anticipate the intentions of Sullivan. Although the London* Prize Ring rules are framed to benefit the working man and sanction his running round and going to ground directly he is touched, Englishmen can hardly feel proud of a champion carrying those privileges to the lengths Mitchell did."
Evidently the students of St Mary's Training College at Hammersmith were able to field one of the best soccer teams in the metropolis, and there is every indication of editorial approval for the hearty fashion in which these pious fellows were wont to kick their opponents off the park (to use contemporary parlance).
Moving on half a century, still in a sporting context, there was a much more serious leader on soccer violence on and off the field, indicating that this malaise is not of recent origin. The leader writer picked on Chelsea Football Club's "disgraceful record", with suspensions and cautions abounding. "The Football Association will have to do something and do it soon. The clubs would seem to be the right people to do it. They ought to be reponsible for the behaviour of their players. Some are beginning to think they are."
One solution proposed was for fining the clubs concerned a sum equivalent to the transfer fees of the players involved — perhaps only just a feasible economic proposition even in 1936!
Also in 1936 there was an item on film violence that seems to stand the test of time and topicality. "The cinema has developed a cruelty complex and that, we submit, is the most dangerously immoral trend it has yet developed. The trouble is that the censors, in concert, alas, with the mass of the people, associate morality only with sex. Screen cruelty is finding itself in association with some of the best films that have ever been made. It is almost impossible to go into a West End cinema at present, and not be subjected to some inhumanly degrading spectacle of cruelty presented in a magnificent setting. The excuse that it is founded on fact is no justification even when it is true, and it is not always true."
On much more important national and international topics, the Catholic Herald has a remarkable record of accurate prophecy and uncanny longterm perceptivity. Examples could fill the whole of this centenary supplement, and will indeed crop up in articles and reflections from distinguished contributors.
It has been said wryly that an editor is a man employed to separate the wheat from the chaff, and ensure the chaff gets printed. Alternatively, he is defined — with varying degrees of injustice or justification when one looks at the present newspaper scene — as a man employed to air such of the proprietor's prejudices as do not conflict with the interests of major advertisers. It is possible that the Herald's clarity of longterm vision, with its constant refusal to fall into line with "accepted opinion", has some roots in independence from large financial corporations. Perhaps this track record will cause a growing number of readers to look for much, much more than "News of the Next World" in the Catholic Herald.
Members of the Catholic hierarchy who have often been opposed to or incensed by some Herald commentaries, have seldom failed to praise the paper's editorial integrity, sincerity and deep penetration — or the paper's ultimate aim, which is to advance the cause of the Catholic faith while endeavouring to apply the Church's principles to the complexities of human society today, doing what fallible mortal men and women can do to display the essentially glowing and many-faceted spirit of Catholicism.
The writer is a former Chairman, and now VicePresident of the Poetry Society.
THE Centenary of the Catholic Herald brings to mind two great men who will always be remembered, with respect, for their part in its making, and in its continuance. They are its founder, Charles Diamond and Count Michael de la Bedoyere, its most famous editor.
Charles Diamond achieved notoriety for his leading article, "Killing no Murder", on the attempted assassination of Lord French, Viceroy of Ireland, on December 28, 1918.
For this article Diamond served six months in Pentonville Prison, convicted on a charge of incitement to murder. The British Establishment had been waiting to pounce on him for years because of his stand on Ireland, on India, and on things Catholic and socialist. Like many an Irish journalist, if Charles Diamond had a fault, it was that he liked to trail his coat. When he died in 1934, at the age of 75, his last words, according to his great friend, Fr C C Martindale SJ, were "the great thing is charity".
In the 1920s such was the state of Anglo-Irish relations that assassination was a common political weapon. For example, on June 22, 1922 Lord French's great friend and comrade-inarms, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, CIGS, was shot dead in London by two IRA men, Dunn and O'Sullivan, at the behest of Michael Collins. They were duly hanged in Wandsworth Jail on August 16, 1922.
Field Marshal Lord French and his comrade Sir Henry Wilson were characters worthy of Oh What a Lovely War. Lord French was appointed as Governor General in Ireland in 1918, virtually its military dictator, just as Britain was considering introducing conscription into Ireland. The dapper little Lord French was a Boer War veteran who had been removed from his command of the British Expeditionary Force, and made Earl of Ypres. He held Ireland under martial law with the help of the Auxiliaries, and the Black and Tans.
The "Battle of Ashtown", which took place on December 19, 1920, was led by Dan Breen, who was wounded in the attack. One of the six IRA volunteers taking part was killed, while the Vice-Regal car and its occupant remained unharmed. Lord French rarely left the Vice-Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park in Dublin after this incident. This was the sixth unsuccessful attempt on his life.