Sydney’s Catholic press 1839-2003 - A voice for Catholics ...
By Dr J A Morley
The Catholic community of NSW was given a public media voice for the first time on Friday, August 3, 1839 - 164 years ago.
That voice was a newspaper, The Australasian Chronicle.
Hitherto, the Catholic cause had been confined to correspondence between small groups of lay Catholic petitioners and the Governor of the day. Such exchanges took place in 1792 and 1818, when un-successful attempts were made to have priests brought to the colony (Frs Philip Conolly and JJ Therry arrived in 1820).
The launch of The Australasian Chronicle began an era of forthright, professional Catholic journalism which, despite many vicissitudes and interruptions, has lasted and is present today in the relaunching of The Catholic Weekly.
From the days of settlement of the penal colony of New South Wales in 1787-88, (beginning with remarks by officers of the First Fleet during its voyage) the Catholic religion of the majority of the convicts, coupled with their Irishness, was the target of sectarian obloquy and vituperation against which they had no voice for reply.
Notable examples of this were the writings of the Anglican chaplain and magistrate, the Rev Samuel Marsden, especially his Observations on the Toleration of the Catholic Religion in New South Wales in 1812, and years on in the 1830s and 1840s, when anti-Catholic propaganda filled the columns of the recently published (April 1831) Sydney Morning Herald, of the Colonist produced by the vociferous rabid anti-Catholic Presbyterian JD Lang in 1835, in the Sydney Gazette and in the Colonial Observer.
In 1836, a year after his arrival, the first Catholic bishop of New Holland (Australia), Bishop John Polding, sent his young Vicar General, Bernard Ullathorne, to England to recruit priests and teachers for service in NSW. Ullathorne met and persuaded a Scottish convert to Catholicism, William Augustine Duncan, to accompany him back to Sydney as a teacher.
Soon after their arrival, Duncan, who was highly intellectual, saw the need for a Catholic newspaper. That need had already been expressed by Catholic layman and newspaperman James Martin, then a sub-editor on the liberal secular paper The Australian. He had spoken of it to Fr (later Archdeacon) John McEncroe, who had himself gained a deep appreciation of the value of such a medium while acting in America as editor of Bishop England’s The United States Catholic Miscellany (later the Miscellany) in Charleston, South Carolina, and who, since his arrival in Sydney in 1832, had, because of the absence of a Catholic paper, bought space in one of the secular papers to answer anti-Catholic attacks.
Duncan, no doubt aided by McEncroe, persuaded a group of wealthy lay Catholics, all of them Irish and at least two of whom were ex-convicts, to form a company to publish The Australasian Chronicle as a Catholic medium. Bishop Polding, whom the proprietors-to-be doubtless consulted, appointed him as editor of the paper.
Duncan was then 28 and described as intelligent, with vision, integrity and a strong will to the point of being obstinate and even irresponsible. He made the Chronicle champion of social and religious liberty and equality, saying that it would fight the secular press which “teemed with the most scurrilous, lying and obscene attacks upon everything Catholic”.
However, Duncan soon offended the Chronicle proprietors by his opposition to Home Rule for Ireland, support for Governor Gipps in the governor’s struggle with the Wentworth and Macarthur factions, and his, Duncan’s, advocacy of extension of the franchise which the wealthy did not want.
He also incurred the wrath of Fr Murphy, an Irishman whom Bishop Polding had left in charge of the diocese as Vicar General while he and Bernard Ullathorne were overseas.
Fr Murphy not only vigorously favoured home rule, but was a friend of Macarthur. In 1842 Murphy brought Fr McEncroe back to Sydney from Norfolk Island, where he had been ministering, to mend the situation at the Chronicle.
Duncan would not budge and the proprietors wanted to be rid of him. McEncroe wrote to Duncan, saying that unless the paper took a more moderate approach it would lose clergy support.
Duncan remained stubborn and, while he stayed on until 1843, the paper gradually declined.
Eventually Duncan either resigned or was sacked by Murphy and went to Queensland.
Fr Murphy had already appointed Fr McEncroe as editor, a position he held for four years - during which the paper continued to lose circulation and advertising revenue.
McEncroe put his own money into the paper to save it and, when William Davis - the last of the proprietors - died in 1843, he became sole owner. He offered the paper to the now Archbishop Polding, who refused it.
Fr McEncroe then gave it to his own nephew, Michael D’Arcy, to run.
D’Arcy, who changed the name to The Morning Chronicle, offended many by adopting a policy of rabid Irishism; the paper continued to decline.
It was renamed again, this time as The Chronicle.
In 1846 D’Arcy was sacked and the paper renamed again - as the Sydney Chronicle - and given over by McEncroe to Archbishop Polding’s right-hand man, Abbot Gregory.
Under Gregory it lingered until in 1848 it was merged into the Daily News and Evening Chronicle, Sydney’s first evening newspaper.
Fr McEncroe kept the type and printing press on which the Chronicle had been produced and, realising the continuing need for a Catholic voice in the prevailing secularism, decided to launch another newspaper, using his own money to finance it.
On Thursday, June 27, 1850, with a price of fivepence (five cents), his paper, The Freeman’s Journal, named after a famous Irish Catholic newspaper, was published with this motto on its masthead: In Necessaris Unitas, In Dubis Libertas, In Omnibus Charitas (Unity On Essentials, Freedom On Doubtful Things, Charity In Everything).
The Freeman’s was a success. It was printed on the old Chronicle press that had been installed in the gallery of old St Mary’s Seminary. The type was set for the first two issues in the printery office of Henry Parkes’ The Empire. It was published from Jeremiah Moore’s famous bookshop in George St.
Fr McEncroe wrote to Parkes: “For fear I have to trespass on your kindness for setting up a second number of the Freeman’s Journal at your office, I beg to suggest that the Headings, the Advertisements and List of Agents set up in the last issue of that Journal may be left standing fit for all use in case of another issue from the Empire office. With my best thanks for the handsome manner in which you have helped me in my late critical position.”
Irish news was fully covered in the paper, as were reports of parliament, local and overseas news.
Editorially, Freeman’s condemned sectionalism, oppression, exploitation and narrowness and advocated the democratic ideal.
McEncroe soon relinquished the editorship again in favour of his nephew D’Arcy, who, in turn, passed it to an ex-Benedictine monk, Sheridan Moore, who held it in 1856-57 until Archbishop Polding forced him to resign.
Once more McEncroe took control, but soon sold the journal to Jabez King Heydon who was also a convert to Catholicism.
Heydon was no sooner installed than in editorials and articles contributed by Duncan, the Freeman’s began a series of virulent attacks upon Archbishop Polding’s administration of the archdiocese and his Benedictinism, and advocating a missionary clergy instead of the monastic Benedictines.
The archbishop, who was a Benedictine, dreamt of establishing Benedictine monks as the principal clergy serving the area.
The Freeman’s campaign against Benedictine rule was concentrated on Archbishop Polding’s friend and fellow Benedictine, Abbot Gregory, using the most abusive and extravagant language to decry his authoritarian manner.
In reply, in June 1858 Archbishop Polding, with Bishop James Goold of Melbourne and Bishop Robert Willson of Hobart, published a Pastorale Monitum in which they condemned Freeman’s Journal, writing that “following in the footsteps of Luther and other authors of heresy, they [Freeman’s and laity] profess the greatest veneration for the Church and still raise their voices and write in various ways concerning abuses and shortcomings; they hold the bishops in honour and condemn Episcopal rule. Moreover, they dare to criticise them in the public papers”.
Excommunication was also threatened against the Freeman’s staff and some of its correspondents.
Not satisfied with Fr McEncroe’s efforts to tone down the attacks in the paper, Archbishop Polding even threatened to withdraw his (McEncroe’s) priestly faculties. He said “even an Archdeacon is not secure”, blaming Mc Encroe for condemning the articles but not the paper as a whole and blaming his attitude “on the influence of a licentious American press”.
In 1858 the archbishop became convinced that ‘some notorious Freemasons’ were behind the attacks.
Freeman’s stepped up the campaign against Abbot Gregory and Archbishop Polding’s administration and authoritarian rule. The bishop said the paper was “aiming at the heart of Established authority” and that “The Editor is a convert, a Chartist heretofore in politics, an Independent [the religious sect] in religious opinions”.
On February 26, 1859 Heydon called a public meeting at which loud and violent protests were made against the appointment on Abbot Gregory’s nomination of a Protestant, Dr Bassett, to the board of the Catholic Orphan School at Parramatta.
It was suggested that an appeal be made to the Pope. The meeting resolution was conveyed to Archbishop Polding on March 2. Two days later, at the archbishop’s direction, Gregory wrote to Heydon and seven other laymen, telling them that unless they renounced the proceedings by March 10, they would be excommunicated.
All but the firebrand Daniel Denehy published retractions in an advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald.
In 1860, Archbishop Polding referred to Heydon as “an infidel, a disciple of Voltaire”, adding that he should be denied the sacraments.
He also drafted a letter in the most extravagant terms to Cardinal Barnabo, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation Propaganda Fide, the body responsible for mission territories (as a mission territory, Australia was subject to the congregation and remained so until 1977).
The draft said, inter alia: “Recently however, he [Archdeacon McEncroe] has associated himself in the property and in the management of the paper [Freeman’s], [with] a Mr Heydon, a man of some talent but illiterate, of low origin and social position, though possessing a considerable recently acquired property. He [Heydon] became a convert late in life from the Sect of Independents, I believe, and has little knowledge, and still less habitude, of Catholic sentiment and discipline.
“Within the last two months this man had published articles professing to be letters from anonymous correspondents of the most offensive and mischievous kind - in the concoction of which he is strongly suspected to have some part.
“The actions of ecclesiastical superiors are criticised and misrepresented, the most unfounded assertions are made recklessly, as it is pretended to elicit truth by their contradiction. Most of the faithful are good and religious, but, as a body they are peculiarly ... liable to be misguided, and set on fire, by any shallow plausible agitator who addresses himself confidently to their simplicity and blame less ignorance.
“They are Religious and Catholic under judicious guidance ... but were they to fall under the influence of demagogues, they ... would be on the brink of insubordination and schism. And schism, at the least, I venture to say, is the direct tendency of this unhappy journal.
“And yet, full of meddling insolence and mischief as it is, the paper would be comparatively harmless were it not for the avowed connexion of a clergyman [McEncroe]. And now, taking on myself the responsibility of the allegation, that the journal in question, as at present conducted, is subversive of all order and respect for authorities, and that it fosters a spirit tending rapidly to anarchy and schism, I respectfully supplicate the Sacred Congregation to decide for my guidance.”
He then set out four questions, in two of which he asked whether he would be justified - if McEncroe did not completely publicly disavow connection with Freeman’s - in depriving him of his dignity in the cathedral by withdrawing faculties and imposing other censures.
Secondly would he be justified in requiring that a priest censor the press and “in openly denouncing and censoring a paper which shall be obstinately dangerous to the interests of religion, whether by heretical doctrine or schismatical spirit?”
Archbishop Polding got little comfort from the cardinal. But shortly afterwards, Heydon relinquished the editorship.
In 1870-71 another paper, The Catholic Associate Reporter, was published and edited by JG O’Connor who, in 1877, launched The Catholic Times in opposition to Freeman’s.
Then, in 1880, Archbishop Polding’s successor, Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan, also became dissatisfied with Freeman’s independent stances, bought the Times and changed the title to The Express. The new paper soon failed and O’Connor took it back.
A Fr Bunbury and Major Shawellhood published a broadsheet, the Irish-Australian, in 1895; lack of capital soon saw it wound up.
Finally, in 1895, a group of priests opposed to Freeman’s, and wanting to give the Catholic community a cheap and effective journal, founded the Catholic Press.
Considering the Freeman’s price - now sixpence - too high for most of the laity, they sold the Catholic Press at threepence. It appeared first on November 8, 1895. It had a pro tem editor, Fr Bunbury, awaiting the arrival of Mr Perrin from New Zealand.
The paper supported Home Rule for Ireland, Federation for Australia and protectionism for local industry.
It opposed British participation in the Boer War but had two famous war correspondents, a priest and a woman, and gave full coverage of the war.
In July 1897 Mr Perrin retired and was replaced by John Tighe Ryan who held the post until his death in 1922. He became one of the most outstanding figures in Australian journalism.
Both Freeman’s and the Catholic Press strongly supported the candidature of Cardinal Moran in the Federal Convention election of 1897; but the cardinal failed to win a seat on the convention because not enough Catholics voted for him.
At a dinner in his honour on February 26, 1902, Tighe Ryan said that the Catholic Press was “first of all a Catholic paper, helping to spread Catholic teaching and to defend Catholic doctrines and institutions from attacks”. Beyond that it would stand for a square deal to all citizens, and would support public men, irrespective of political parties, who strove for Australian progress and were neither sectarian nor opportunistic.
The Catholic Press and the Australian Workers’ Union paper The Worker were almost the only media to oppose Prime Minister William Morris Hughes in his drive for conscription in World War I.
As a result, Tighe Ryan often clashed with the wartime censorship.
The paper was threatened with closure at one stage unless every item concerning the war in any respect was presented to the censors prior to publication. Ryan opposed conscription despite the support given to Hughes and the conscription campaigns by the then Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Michael Kelly.
Instead, he backed Melbourne’s Archbishop Daniel Mannix, who vehemently opposed Hughes and conscription. At the same time Ryan printed many of Archbishop Kelly’s sermons supporting the war and conscription.
Circulation of the Catholic Press doubled in 1917.
Freeman’s Journal supported the war.
And in January 1939, when World War II was looming, it advocated the idea of a press censorship to preserve the peace it saw “imperilled by the belligerent hysteria of the daily secular press”.
When Tighe Ryan died in 1922 the Sydney Bulletin referred to him as “a priest in all but ordination”. Ryan was replaced by the then sub-editor of The Catholic Press, PS Cleary, who had also opposed conscription in 1915; but, unlike Ryan, he did not subscribe to a democratic pluralist system of government.
He also often introduced anti-Semitism into his editorials. He approved of the work done in Italy by Mussolini and supported the cause of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. He was an outspoken foe of communism.
Cleary died on December 7, 1941, just before Archbishop (later Cardinal) Norman Gilroy effected amalgamation of Freeman’s and the Catholic Press to create The Catholic Weekly.
First published on Thursday, March 5, 1942, in the darkest days of World War II, the contemporary newspaper format of The Catholic Weekly contrasted throughout in style and composition with that of its two predecessors, both of which had grown dull and staid and had become antiquated.
The front page contained a blessing “on management, editors and readers of The Catholic Weekly” from Pope Pius XII, a message from Archbishop Gilroy and a letter from one of 12 Australian priests in the South Solomons, telling his superior in Sydney of the im- pending Japanese invasion and the priests’ decision to remain at their posts.
Under the editorship of James Kelleher who was until then chief sub-editor of one of the principal secular newspapers in Sydney, The Catholic Weekly was an immediate success
The Catholic Weekly’s predecessors ceased publication the week before it was published.
The Catholic Press, when it ceased publication on February 26, 1942, was selling at fourpence a copy.
Its last edition carried a half-column item headed New Paper Is Welcomed - What ‘Catholic Weekly’ Will Give Readers and set out the many features the new paper would contain, with emphasis on coverage of the war.
In the postwar years The Catholic Weekly became involved in the political events that marked the 1950s and 60s.
Its associate editor and historian, Brian Doyle, wrote a devastating series of hard-hitting editorials and special articles in opposition to the then Labor Party socialisation program. The paper took a leading part in the campaign for State aid for Catholic schools.
As its predecessors had done by publishing outstanding issues, which became archival material of the 1928 International Eucharistic Congress held in Sydney, The Catholic Weekly produced a series of equally informative articles and issues to cover the National Eucharistic Congress in Sydney in May 1953, commemorating the sesquicentenary of Fr James Dixon’s first officially sanctioned Mass in May 1803, and has recently repeated that by its coverage of the bicentenary of that event.
And now there is the relaunching of The Catholic Weekly to give it a facelift and reawaken reader interest in its role as the voice of the Church in the modern world.