SINCE the early 19th century, Catholicism in Britain has been predominantly an urban denomination.
The influx of Irish immigrants made for the big industrial cities, and the Catholic Church, in an attempt to hold the allegiance of the new industrial classes, founded the Catholic press as an adjunct to the pulpit. In the 1880s at a time when Cardinal Manning was striving for the material improvement of the working classes, a 30year-old County Derry emigre, Charles Diamond founded the Catholic Herald as a radical organ for the Catholic working class. An openly and defiantly political paper, it won Diamond a large following, and encouraged him to develop a large number of local papers in centres such as Dundee. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Clydebank, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester, where there were concentraOns of Irish immigrants.
Altogether, Diamond founded more than 40 newspapers, including The Catholic Pulpit, The Lamp, the Catholic Home Journal, and two papers which were eventually merged with the Herald: the Monitor and the Catholic News.
Diamond was an outspoken member of the Nationalist Party in the House of Commons, where he represented Monaghan.
But his talent for invective eventually landed him in Pentonville Prison for two months.
He lost his influence and his papers began to decline in circulation; but not before Diamond had been "christened" the Northcliffe of the Catholic press by one national newspaper — a title which apparently greatly amused him.
When Diamond died, in 1934, the Catholic Herald, and its numerous subsidiaries, were acquired by Ernest Vernor Miles, a convert, who altered its entire character.
It was from this time that the Catholic Herald as we know it today, was born. The New Catholic Herald, to give it its official title, aimed at a totally different readership from its predecessors.
The idea was to start a fresh Catholic weekly, which dealt with everyday world news of all kinds from a Catholic standpoint.
As such, the target public was not necessarily exclusively Catholic. The paper hoped to broaden the mind of Catholic readers, and to appeal to non-Catholics who were curious to know more about the Catholic church.
The editor in 1934 was Count Michael de la Bedoyere. He remained in the post from then until 1962, apart from the period 193536 when Donald Attwater was editor.
Born in 1900, and educated at Stonyhurst, Michael de la Bedoyerelentered the Jesuit novitiate and took a first in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford.
Deciding he had no vocation to be a Jesuit, he lectured at the University of Minnesota from 1930-31 and entered journalism in 1932 as assistant editor of the Dublin Review.
Writing some years later, de la Bedoyere remarked: "As a mama of trial and error, we endeavoured to give to the Catholic Herald a wide social, political, cultural, economic scope in order to support or oppose, in the name of the Catholic right order of things, movements or deeds, hitherto generally regarded as rarely coming within the ambit of the Catholic press, while maintaining, though perhaps with less sensationalism, the natural Catholic priority for specifically religious or ecclesiastical news of importance, and while endavouring to cut down, or at least relegate to a less important place, intrinsically unimportant parochial and personal news and gossip."
De la Bedoyere built up the Herald's circulation to nearly six figures. More importantly, he was the architect of the paper's forward-looking and sociallyconscious style.
He anticipated the Second Vatican Council by many years, and under his editorship Anglicans were writing for the paper in the days when this was regarded by many Catholics as almost heresy.
It was also during his editorship that several journalists who became top men in their fields joined the staff.
These included Andrew Boyle, founder of The World at One on Radio 4, and the present editor, Daniel Counihan, for many years a BBC Foreign Correspondent.
When Douglas Hyde caused a sensation by leaving the Communist Daily Worker in 1948 and becoming a Catholic, he came straight to the Herald as foreign editor.
De la Bedoyere caused a few stirs himself.
A 1940 editorial which criticised the Government for its wartime relations with Russia nearly led Churchill to insist on the paper's closure.
In later years, de la Bedoyere's progressive stance led to difficulties with bishops and parish priests, upon whom the paper was largely reliant for church door sales. He left the Herald on the eve of the Vatican Council, and died in 1973.
De la Bedoyere's place was taken by Desmond Fisher, who, like his predecessor earned the reputation of being progressive.
He applied the paper's tradition of independence to his interpretation of the Vatican Council.
His successor, Desmond Albrow, came from The Daily Telegraph. Probably the Herald's most professional editor when it came to the nuts and bolts of producing a newspaper, he was more conservative theologically than Fisher. But he upheld the Herald's spirit of independence in opposing the sentiments of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical on birth control.
The net result was that many priests banned the paper from their churches. One priest went so far as to censor what he saw as an offending article by cutting it out of every copy sold in his church! Albrow was not to be deterred. "Publish and be banned", he said.
After Albrow's return to Fleet Street, Gerard Noel was editor for a time. He was succeeded by Maurice Hart, Stuart Reid, Richard Dowden, and Frances Gumley, who earned the double distinction of being the youngest as well as the first female editor on Fleet Street.
Despite Fleet Street's new-found enthusiasm for religious news, the vision of 1934 has become a solid foundation for a Catholic interpretation of world events. The Catholic Herald continues to hold an 'indisputable place in modern journalism'.