For many years, the Catholics of Scotland had access to a national Catholic newspaper and from time to time across the years, I wrote the odd article which they printed. The pandemic and all that came with it proved to be the death of that newspaper, which was sold primarily through parishes across Scotland – and of course, the lockdown meant these all closed for a very long period.
Consequently, I was delighted some time go to learn that we were to have a new national publication, to be called ‘The Scottish Catholic’.
Perhaps best of all, in my view, was that this would be a monthly publication in magazine format, quite different to a weekly newspaper. The magazine idea was something new and this appealed to me. It also made it likely that the content would be both considered and carefully curated – not always possible when the pages need to be filled week after week.
One day I was contacted by the magazine editor, Ian Dunn, and asked to consider submitting some of my writing. I don’t know for sure where he got my name, though I have a suspicion it was from a friend of mine, who had himself contributed an interview to the publication. I did submit an article and it was very kindly published, as were a few more after that. I wrote about the Liturgy of the Hours in “A Life Changing Liturgy”; about sanctity in “The Saints Next Door“; and about the spiritual life in “Prayer And Perseverance”. And I was in good company, as there were a number of very good articles spread across the issues of the magazine which I read, all of it very beautifully published.
All of this made it the more saddening to learn today that The Scottish Catholic will no longer be published. As the Editor noted in the email sent today – “The most recent print edition of the Scottish Catholic will be the last in that format.” He went on to explain –
“We didn’t know then that in the aftermath of the pandemic Catholic Mass attendance in Scotland would drop by nearly 50%. We didn’t know that inflation would drive the cost of paper and transport far beyond anything we’d budgeted for. And we didn’t realise how much the culture and habits of Catholics in Scotland had changed, making a broad Church, see-all-sides print publication a tougher sell than we hoped.”
In large part, I suppose this reflects what is happening in other areas and is a comment on just how much the world has really changed over the last three years, as all of us are realising in so many different ways and especially financially in the dramatic increases to the costs of energy and food.
But I stopped at that final reason given – “how much the culture and habits of Catholics in Scotland had changed, making a broad Church, see-all-sides print publication a tougher sell than we hoped”. For Catholics specifically, this ought to make us wonder. I wondered just what this change of ‘culture and habits’ referred to, since it seemed to be something other than just the massive reduction on the numbers of people attending Mass each week – although this in itself would, I am certain, make the potential market for such a publication difficult at best.
Something is changing dramatically in the Church today – in Scotland, certainly, but also in a great many other places. What the Church ‘is’ and what the Church ‘means’ to people is simply not what it was or what it meant to people as recently as just a couple of years back. It is different. It is very different.
But I’m not sure the Church itself has realised this – and if it has, then it is not wiling to admit it. Despite this, the lay members of the Church – those who are left – can see it all too clearly. The Holy Spirit guides us, too.
I don’t think anyone can really doubt that the Church – like the world itself – is experiencing a moment of tremendous change. I am inclined to think of it more as a precipitous moment of change. I think this is perhaps the clearest of the ‘signs of the times’ that we could have. It almost has a sense of the Book of Revelation, which speaks of ‘the former things passing away’. Dramatic though that sounds, I can’t help thinking there is more than a fragment of truth there.
As humans, we don’t like change. We like routine and recognition. We like to know where we are and we very much like familiarity. Yet in these moments of human history, we seem to have none of these, none of the certainty we once enjoyed. And the cessation of a Catholic magazine as a monthly publication seems to be just the latest reminder that this is so.
Regardless of our disinclination for anything other than what we know, here we are, and with no option except to get used to the ‘new now’.
To Ian and to all those who worked so tirelessly to produce a really decent magazine – thank you. And I look forward to seeing what you go on to do next.