BY Ian Dunn | January 19 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

11-IAN-FAREWELL

The SCO editor looks back in his final edition

Reflections from IAN DUNN before he leaves the paper for the final time

Just over a decade ago a gangly young man nervously walked into the warren-like Observer offices. The then-editor, a fearsome old beast from the glory days of Scottish tabloid journalism, tossed a CV back over his desk.

“You look like a middle-class [insult unprintable in a Catholic paper] but we’ll give you a shot,” he said.

Now, a decade later, more paunchy than gangly, and older, I am walking out. This will be my final edition as editor of the Scottish Catholic Observer.

This has not been a period of great joy for journalism or Catholicism in Scotland, yet I leave more devoted to and optimistic for both.

When I started working here telling people I was a Catholic journalist would spark a rant against the Church, but these days just revealing I’m a journalist is enough to set people off into rants of fake news and stolen referendums.

When I’m actually asked for advice for prospective journalists I warn them the pay is grim and there’s no job security—and on the other hand the abuse is constant.

All of which is true. But for the right sort of person there are moments, when you ask a sharp question and hear the nervous too-long intake of breath, or when you read an email with the dawning realisation this is really something—when it really is something.

Because when you get it right, when you drag some hidden lie out into the light—it is a job worth doing.

As editor, I’ve been guided by the idea the paper should try and answerer the question ‘What does it mean to be a Catholic in Scotland now?’ We can never truly answer that. But the asking has been worthwhile.

And for all the doom and gloom about journalism now, one of the great ­advantages Catholicism gives you is the long view. And we need people who ask questions, who find things out. That is clearer to me than ever.

But not of course as much as the world needs the Church.

I worry sometimes that the SCO has too often tended towards good news over bad. That in trying to offset the regular media, which is no friend of the Church, we downplay scandal, and over-celebrate joy.

So let me be clear. The pews have not finished emptying. There are many church closures ahead. And Scottish culture will grow more estranged from Catholicism.

In decades to come there will be harder times, perhaps even brutally so.

Compromises with the state, even long-standing ones, may not be sustainable.

We will be more than 40 years in the desert. But deserts are not forever and ideas, systems and cultures that are arid and lifeless will not survive.

Our society exists for the celebration of dead capital. Some of us have tremendous wealth, but there is no life in gold.

We are living in stagnation—what could be clearer than the collapse of the birth rate in Scotland. People here simply don’t want to have children any more, and all the wealth of our society is directed away from that towards the indulgent generation of wealth for the most corrupted.

In that landscape Catholicism has a unique relevance. We are obsessed by dead, lifeless trinkets and Catholicism celebrates life. Says we can be open to life. There is a message for the age.

And some are listening. Around the chaplaincies and elsewhere there are young people taking on the call, aware that it will mark them as different among their peers yet willing to take on that burden.

As our politics becomes ever more bitter and angry, as more and more refuse to accept the humanity of those who disagree, the Church’s call to accept the unique value of every person becomes ever more important to society as a whole.

A smaller, more faithful Church as someone once said—but one that will endure long after most of this country’s churches have been redeveloped into soulless buy-to-let flats.

And there will be hostility, do not doubt it—but we have more to fear from the indifference of our own than the hatred of our enemies.

Partly that’s personal. I would not recommend working at a Catholic newspaper as a means of enriching your Faith. 10 years is a long time. You read about abuse, you write about abuse, you listen to abuse victims and your Faith will be tested until it snaps.

Yet at the point in my life when I needed God most, there was an answer. And when I needed the Church it was there. So there is that.

I have no doubt that the paper will continue. I have been privileged to work with some fantastic people here. They will move it on and up and do things I never dreamed possible.

I will be reading with interest.

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