I The enfant terrible of
fal11111111111111111111 the Catholic press
By BISHOP HEENAN
RECENTLY I wrote a tribute to the Catholic press for the 5,000th publication of the Universe. The Catholic press covers an astonishingly wide range of
literature. Some publications have an exclusively devotional
object. Others concentrate on the Church's social teaching. Another is politico-religious with a bias part Catholic and part Tory. Where does THE CA1 HOLIC HERALD fit into this catalogue ? NE CATHOLIC HERALD might be described, good-humouredly, as the enfant terrible of the Catholic press. There is much to he said in praise and blame of this unique newspaper. But one fact would be acknowledged by all critics whether hostile or friendly—that it produces challenging journalism. It may sometimes be called objectionable but never dull. From the Catholic point of view this is neither to commend nor condemn the paper. But at least it makes THE CATHOLIC HERALD worth examining THE, most controversial and, to my mind, the feature most likely to be misunderstood in THE CATHOLIC HERALD iS its correspondence columns. They are said to be the most eagerly and widely read page of the paper.
There can be no denial of an editor's right to open his paper to the comments of its readers. But although he may disclaim their views he is responsible for publishing them. If libel is uttered in the letters he can be prosecuted— however heavy the type he uses in disassociating himself from the
views expressed. In a religious newspaper there is some analogy between libel and unsound religious opinions.
It must be remembered that in discussing Toe CATHOLIC HERALD we are dealing with a paper professedly and proudly Catholic. It is surely good that Catholics should have a readers' forum in which to air their views. But in a popular Catholic weekly not all views can prudently be given publicity. What it is legitimate to discuss in theological reviews can cause scandal to the general reader. Every Catholic newspaper is primarily a family newspaper and never has the right, for example, to print uncharitable letters.
But letter-writers are prone to attack a whole class — priests, teachers, converts, choirs or housekeepers. If Catholics have legitimate complaints against clergy, teachers, or any other section of the Catholic community, the public press does not seem to be the place to voice them. It is more honourable to write to the people concerned. if sufficient people in a parish (or diocese) write to the priest (or bishop) a genuine grievance Is likely to be examined.
TT is well known that cranks frequently write to the papers. Rut what of the normal, serious, correspondents in a newspaper feature characteristic of all the British press though infrequently seen in foreign papers ?
Too often such writers hide themselves under a pseudonym. This may be because they are afraid of being thought cranks or simply because they lack courage. Nothing would induce me to read an anonymous letter addressed to me personally. I am afraid it might contain an attack or slander on an innocent person unaware of the charges made. The slander once read might be remembered after its suspect source had been forgotten. But occasionally an anonymous letter to the press may be justified for professional or even security reasons.
My point is that there have appeared in THE CATHOLIC H ER At D letters likely to wound or disedify over the nom-de-plume of " Parishioner," " Convert," " Sacerdos" or "Curate." A stricter watch is necessary if the correspondence columns of The CATHOLIC HERALD are to provoke thought without risking wounds. Thus safeguarded, this feature is capable of serving its purpose.
NOTHER objection corn
monly made against THE CATHOLIC HERALD is its tendency to publish doubtful theology. The paper is thought to seek contributions less often front recognised theologians than from enthusiasts anxious to break with tradition. Priestworkers, pacifism, the Mass in English, a married clergy. lay parochial councils — anything in fact which traditionalists dislike one might expect to find ventilated in THE CA ITIOLIC HERA! D.
The operative word ie "expect." The editorial staff, in fact, would probably support few if any of these innovations. But its policy can give the mistaken impression that the paper is ready to champion whatever is a departure from accepted Catholic custom. This brings me, rather belatedly, to my point. I regard Tim CATHOLIC HERALD as one of the most valuable protagonists in the apostolate of the press. To my certain knowledge it has been responsible for leading a number of non-Catholics to take an interest in the Faith and subsequently to accept instruction. As nonCatholics they Would have found the other Catholic papers tedious reading. THE CATHOLIC HERALD IS a a sample of superb journalism. Apart from its vivid style, it has the virtue of being invariably kind to the point of indulgence to those outside the Church. This may sometimes annoy Catholics. But it makes non-Catholics warm to the Church of God.
THE CATHOLIC HERALD always seeks to put the point of view of minorities. This easily leads to the accusation— not, I think, at all justified—that editorial policy is identical with the views of such minorities.
Its great merit as a newspaper is that it does not merely print news. It presents news in lucid, colourful English, Its news-editing and feature-writing are expert and can hold their own with any newspaper in Fleet Street.
That is why I wish that the blemishes could be removed. For. after all, they are only blemishes —an occasional letter, article or even photograph offensive to Catholic taste. Unfortunately people remember a lapse from taste or an ill-considered paragraph printed six months ago, while forgetting a whole series of recent issues which gave first-hand information on vital topics or powerfully sponsored a good
TETE CATHOLIC HERALD has sponsored many good causes Let me give one small example At considerable expense, and through the unpaid overtime -of its stall, this newspaper once set itself a purely charitable task. It became the agency for childless Catholic couples willing to adopt babies. Through this initiative there are happy and beloved children growing up in Catholic families who. but for "DM CATHOLIC HERALD. might have remained unwanted.
SOME newspapers are very much the creation of their editors. The best known example is the Observer in the days of J. L. Ciarvin. It is true today of THE CA1 HOLIC HERALD. Most people know that the editor is Michael de la Becloyere. Writing in his paper 1 must not embarrass him by giving him a character sketch. But it is jest to say that he is a Catholic so full of the spirit of the apostolate that he continues to edit a Catholic paper raher than earn a comfortable livelihood in the leisure of authorship and free-lance writing. His judgment of what can prudently appear in a popular Catholic newspaper is. in my view, sometimes faulty. An article in a weekly review from a Catholic pen is sometimes tolerable only because of the limited and select nature of a public to which it is addressed. The editor of THE CATHOLIC HERALD is an intellectual (1 do not use this as a term of opprobium) and probably does not fully appreciate how easily ordinary Catholics can be shocked by novel opinions.
But against this,must be set the editor's remarkable achievement in making the Holy Father's words familiar to thousands, Whatever the Pope says is certain to be intelligently reported and to appear under banner headlines on the front page of THE CATHOLIC 1-TERALD. Whatever mistakes he makes the editor has every right to claim that he is a loyal son of the Holy Father. That is why he gained the affection and confidence of the late Cardinal.
I WOULD not like to see the Catholic press of this country taken out of the hands of the laity. I do not consider that as clergy we can gain the training necessary for the production of the kind of journalism to which the British public is accustomed. I also think it fortunate that the ecclesiastical authorities are spared the responsibility for what appears in Catholic papers. But perhaps it would be possible for the Catholic press itself to take steps to enable the clergy to help it more.
I it too fanciful to imagine each Catholic paper with a priest adviser? It would not be for the priest to tell the editor how to produce his paper but to help him avoid the publication of items likely to give offence or be misunderstood I am sure that priests would be willing to help Catholic weeklies to fulfil their task.
Retent Popes have been tireless in stressing the importance of a well informed Catholic press. Of the zeal and talents of TITF Ca moue HERALD staff there is no question. That is why I am anxious for them to establish a reputation in Catholic journalism for being as safe as they are undoubtedly brilliant.