Media: Appealing to catholic tastes: A former PR executive and 'Times' diarist is preparing to bring controversy to a traditional newspaper. Liz Hunt reports

The traditional view of the Roman Catholic press is that it exists to puff up prelates and to pummel Protestants. The new editor of the Catholic Herald, a weekly newspaper with a circulation of 25,000, disagrees: 'Most prelates are puffed up enough and they don't need us. As for pummelling Protestants - well, there are distinct traditions between Catholics and Protestants which I hope will always be preserved.'

Instead, Cristina Odone, a 31- year-old Italian who has previously been a Times diarist and a public relations executive, says she is serving up a 'spaghetti' theory of the faith. 'Catholicism is like a bowl of spaghetti, full of different strands. It is only if you eat them all together that it will do you any good. The problem is that it is up to the Catholic to find the different strands, and they won't find them just by sitting in church and listening to a priest. The Herald is there to help.'

The analogy reflects her Italian heritage and a strict convent- school education in Rome, where she gained a thorough grounding in her faith, now being put to the test. In recent days she has been in great demand, popping up on the Today programme to offer her tips on who the next pope might be.

Ms Odone knew what she was taking on when she swapped a plush office in Washington, where she advised European firms seeking contracts with the World Bank, for an old school building on the fringes of the City of London.

After a brief spell on an American newspaper in Rome, freelancing for glossy magazines and the Times Educational Supplement, she joined the Herald in 1987 as a reporter. Former colleagues remember her well: 'She once hurled a typewriter at an editor who wanted to publish a letter from Victoria Gillick (a prominent Catholic) describing Cristina as that 'silly young woman' with the wrong attitude towards birth control.'

The editor didn't bear a grudge and earlier this year suggested Ms Odone as his successor. She returns with 'adjusted' attitudes, masses of enthusiasm and an ambition to 'shake up' the paper and win it a new audience among the 'Catholic yuppies who are repentant of their excesses in the Eighties', she says. 'They are married, they have the house, the car and the baby, and now they are finding they need God.'

She believes that her strength as the Herald's editor for the Nineties is that she shares many of the experiences and feelings of this audience. As a young woman, reconciling her Catholicism and her lifestyle were not easy, and at university she stopped practising. 'I became one of those random Mass-goers. Guilt featured prominently in my life.'

She intends to capture attention with 'good controversial writing', drawing first on the rich pool of British writers who are Catholics. Forthcoming articles include a survey of psychiatrists, to find out if Catholics are the most 'screwed up of all', and a discussion on what it is really like to be a convent girl. Mary Kenny asks 'whither Catholic womanhood', while Alice Thomas Ellis, the novelist, will contribute a regular column on family life. Other new columnists include Clare Boylan, the Irish novelist, and Christopher Monckton, late of the Evening Standard, who has already made it to Pseuds Corner in Private Eye as a result of his ponderings in the Herald.

Among other prominent Catholics whom she will be trying to woo are Piers Paul Read, Lord Rees-Mogg, Auberon Waugh, David Lodge, Paul Johnson and Richard Ingrams, some of whom have agreed to contribute (for a standard fee of pounds 40). She is dispensing with the articles written by people 'whose reason for appearing on the pages was their 'goodness', or the fact that they belonged to a religious order'.

The Herald is also seeking new readers away from its traditional point of sale in churches. From the end of this month, it will be available for the first time in selected newsagents, preferably those near a church. It is joining the Church Times (circulation 44,437), the Methodist Recorder (27,080), the Baptist Times (circulation figure unavailable) and the Tablet (16,421) in a co- ordinated circulation drive that represents an ecumenical effort to reach new audiences.

Tony Richardson, the Herald's circulation manager, says: 'We stand or fall together.' A working party of representatives from each of the titles has identified areas of common interest, he says. 'For example, the South-east has a goodly mix of all denominations and so that is a likely starting place. In the West Country, for example, the Baptist Times would be strong and we would be weak, but stronger in the Liverpool and Manchester areas.' Encouragement from local churches will be sought, he says. 'A 2 or 3 per cent increase would be a real achievement in our terms.'

The 'church' titles deserve a wider readership, Ms Odone says. 'They can bring a new angle, a fresh dimension to a lot of news stories.' All today's major issues have a religious angle: environment and population, legal issues, divorce and family break-up, abortion. 'There is a devil and God component in all of them, but national newspapers are only interested in bonking bishops.'

Some issues, however, are not up for debate: abortion, for example, is 'murder' in the eyes of the Catholic Church. 'Personally, it goes against the grain: as a journalist my hackles are raised by any whiff of censorship, but it would be as blasphemous as Anita Roddick (of Body Shop fame) extolling the virtues of a fur coat,' Ms Odone says.

The subject of women priests is another matter: it is being vigorously debated by the Church and the news pages will reflect that. Another thorny issue is contraception, the subject that most perturbs young Catholic couples. She is reluctant to be drawn on the issue.

The new-look Herald will attract readers whose requirements are not being met by rival Catholic titles, Ms Odone believes. The Universe (circulation 106,104) is 'like the Sun without page 3 girls', while the Tablet 'deals only in words of three syllables or more. What we have to do is capture the bit in between. We won't talk down, but we won't be afraid of well-expressed opinions, however controversial.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: PR Account Manager / AM

£20-30K(DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a PR Account M...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Account Executive

Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: One of the UK’s largest and most s...

Guru Careers: Marketing and Communications Manager

£Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing and Co...

Guru Careers: Digital Designer / Interactive Designer

£ Highly Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Digital Designer / Interactive Des...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence