A New Voice in Catholic America

The Catholic Herald has announced that it will soon begin publishing a weekly edition in the USA. In discussing this decision, William Cash, chairman of the Herald, takes the opportunity to consider the journal’s past accomplishments in the UK:

Throughout its history, the Herald has broken some of the most important Catholic stories, including the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 – an exclusive it achieved by gambling that the pontiff would die immediately after it went to press. (Thankfully for our reputation, he did.) The Herald has also been the chosen platform for many of the world’s most influential Catholic writers, including GK Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and JRR Tolkien. We will continue this tradition, including new American voices […]

Damian [Thompson, the Catholic Herald’s editor-in-chief] is the former religious affairs correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and a veteran of 25 years of reporting on Church battles. He buried himself for a few days in our recently digitised archives, and emerged with many gems that will feature in the publicity for our US edition. My favourite is from Evelyn Waugh, who wrote the following while serving as a Herald special correspondent at a Eucharistic Congress in Budapest: “In England we [Catholics] are always a minority, often a very small one. There is a danger that we look on ourselves as the exceptions, instead of in the true perspective of ourselves as normal and the irreligious as freaks.”

Waugh’s report from Budapest was printed in the Herald’s 3 June 1938 edition and entitled “Impressions of Splendour and Grace”. That was a highly fraught time for politics in Europe (especially Central Europe): the Nazi German annexation of neighboring Austria has taken place only a few months earlier and the Sudeten crisis in neighboring Czechoslovakia was about to result in further annexations later in the year. Waugh’s comments on this political tension are limited to the following:

The crowds were large but there was room for more, and it would be dishonest to speak of the Congress without mentioning the shadow which lay over it; the empty places among the bishops’ thrones, the empty benches in the square of the Heroes; the near neighbors abruptly and cruelly deprived of their primary human right of association in worship. Over a hundred thousand Austrians had made their preparations to come; none were allowed across the frontier. Of the whole great Teutonic Christian race only two were present in Budapest–tennis players competing in the early round of the Davis Cup championship. It was a sobering thought, never wholly forgotten by guests or hosts. All over the world, men and women of every race and colour are looking to the Congress as a tangible sign of the Union of Chiristendom… [EAR, pp. 237-38.]

Waugh also published frequently in the British Catholic journals The Tablet and The Month. The former described itself as “progressive” and was edited from 1936 to 1967 by Waugh’s friend from his Oxford days Douglas Woodruff. The Month was a Jesuit magazine that in 1948 came to be revived and edited by another friend, Fr Philip Caraman. It ceased publication in 2001.

Another Roman Catholic journal already flourishing in the USA has also recently taken up the question of the current and future status of the Catholic novelist, an issue also addressed in the Herald article. This is America. The Jesuit ReviewThe article was orginally published in different form as a lecture and was entitled “The Literature You Save May be Your Own.” It is written by Joshua Hren, editor-in-chief of Wiseblood Books (named after a Flannery O’Connor novel), and begins with a brief survey of the Roman Catholic novel’s recent history:

The Catholic literary tradition has been marked by writers who understood that human nature finds its final cause not in mere beauty, not in mere inclusion, but in salvation. The idiosyncrasies of a given writer and the singularities of his or her times determine the tenor of this implicit or explicit preoccupation. Consider Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, which shows us just how difficult it is for grace to hound the decadent, destructive souls of the dying English aristocracy. The task of giving good form and truthful content to grace building upon nature is difficult, too. It is all too easy for such writing to collapse into pious sentimentality and disputatious moralism. But a Catholic literary culture that works in continuity with its rich heritage will give us a contemporary literature that both gazes unflinchingly at the messiness of our present moment and artfully works out its characters’ salvation or damnation.

When Waugh published articles in American Catholic journals, he usually chose Commonweal, although at least one appeared in America in 1964. This was a memoir of Alfred Duggan on the occasion of his death (EAR, pp. 625-28). Commonweal is edited by Roman Catholic laymen and both journals are considered liberal by American Catholic standards. The Catholic Hearld, on the other hand, may take a more conservative or middle-of-the road position than these other two American publications (according to its Wikipedia entry).

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