'There's nothing weird about being a Catholic and a liberal,' says 'Tablet' editor

Catherine Pepinster tells Matthew Bell why the Catholic weekly is thriving

Catherine Pepinster reveals herself in mysterious ways. If the 51-year-old editor of The Tablet, the liberal Catholic magazine, is excited about this week's Papal visit, she is careful to hide it. "It is..." Pause. "A once in a generation event," she says. Pause. "I am excited, but we feel like we've been building up to this moment for months."

Perhaps one reason why Pepinster is not more enthusiastic is that Benedict XVI is a more conservative Pontiff than she would prefer. He is also not John Paul II. "He was a much younger pope, a dynamic individual," she says, "Benedict is certainly a controversial pope, and he's not a rock star. I think John Paul II was more of a rock star."

Pepinster's apparent ambivalence towards Benedict has enraged some on the Catholic right, such as Damian Thompson, editor of The Catholic Herald, who recently described The Tablet as "a publication out of control".

In his blog for The Daily Telegraph, Thompson has blasted Pepinster for various issues, including The Tablet's criticism of the Pope – even calling for her resignation. Does it bother her? "That kind of blogging is quite bullying," she says. "I don't think it shows the Church in a good light, so I don't think he's doing any of us any favours." After a pause, she warms to her theme. "The Tablet is not out on some progressive limb, we're not extremists. We're quite mainstream."

Over the coming days, The Tablet will certainly become more visible, launching a marketing push with adverts in newspapers and a stronger presence on newsstands. It is also relaunching its website. When the Pope's not in town it can be difficult to find a copy of The Tablet; but this is part of Pepinster's strategy to cultivate readers through subscriptions, which now account for 80 per cent of its 22,000 circulation.

When the paper was founded in 1870, British Catholics were either from the urban poor, mostly Irish immigrants, or the few grand old families that survived the Reformation. Since then, The Tablet has benefited from the emergence of an intellectual Catholic middle class, typified by its first editor, Frederick Lucas, a Quaker convert, who wanted a forum to debate religious and political issues of the day.

While some of the issues covered then remain pertinent now – the liturgy, the education of the poor – Catholics today face several much thornier issues, like Aids in Africa, gay rights and child abuse by Catholic priests. For Pepinster and her staff, this has been particularly difficult. "There were times when it was hard to defend the Church," she admits.

"People working here felt it too: stories about abuse were coming in thick and fast and we had to think about it all the time. We had a duty to report it, but you also wondered, is there a moment when the readers switch off? We ran a lot pieces trying to explain why people would behave like this."

The worst aspect of the abuses scandal was the extent of the cover up, she says. "It's hard to understand why people would think the reputation of the Church mattered more than the suffering of the victims."

Her professional background is in newspapers, having held several executive positions at this newspaper and The Independent before joining The Tablet in 2004. Giving up the buzz of a newsroom for a small staff and offices in Hammersmith was a wrench but has not been without its rewards, she says. "Religion is a big issue these days. Since 9/11, religion has been much more to the fore. It's a big topic in society, so it doesn't feel like I'm in some little backwater. It feels as if I'm part of what's going on."

For 10 years, from her mid twenties, Pepinster lost her faith, and she admits to still having doubts. There are aspects of the Church's teaching, such as on contraception, that she also finds "difficult". "But I also know that the Catholic faith makes more sense to me than anything else. You may have bust ups with your parents but you still feel your family is where you should be."

Pepinster is keen to defend the Church, pointing out that it is, for instance, one of the major educators of girls in the developing world. But how does she square being a liberal with its position on, say, homosexuality? "It's not unusual to be a liberal and a Catholic," she says, "Look at Cherie Blair, or Helena Kennedy. It's not weird. There are areas of difficulty without a doubt. The issue of homosexuality links into Catholic teaching as a whole: it's to do with how they see sexuality. These issues are meat and drink to The Tablet, so I'm happy to run a magazine that explores them. We are trying to provide a forum for ideas. It would be a very boring magazine if it was only full of pieces that I agree with."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little