Obituary: Edward Skillin

Article excerpt

CATHOLIC JOURNALISM was Edward Skillin's life - and for him Catholic journalism was Commonweal, a fortnightly magazine almost entirely shaped by Skillin's decades of hard work and dedication as editor and publisher.

The lay-run magazine, founded in New York in 1924 and still based in Manhattan, is wide-ranging, covering religion, politics, literature, culture and the arts. It remains the foremost American Catholic publication, though it has no official approval from the Church and has frequently suffered the bishops' criticism for its often independent stance.

Skillin subscribed to The Commonweal (as it was then called) from the first issue and applied for a job there in 1925, but was rejected. "I felt it was the most intelligent expression of Catholicism," he later explained. It was not until 1933 that he was eventually taken on and contributed his first of what would become thousands of articles, both signed and unsigned.

Although Skillin initially worked on circulation, together with subediting duties, his potential was soon apparent as an author. Incensed by the magazine's support of Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War - a position almost universally held within the Church as a result of Republican murders of priests - Skillin organised an in-house putsch in 1938, taking over Commonweal and becoming co-editor. The new team published a landmark editorial deploring the widespread Catholic tendency to equate Franco's anti- Communist crusade with the cause of the faith.

Skillin became sole editor in 1947, a position he held until 1967, when he became Commonweal's publisher. This long tenure coincided with far- reaching changes in American society - including the election of a Catholic as US President - and within the Catholic Church, especially as a result of the Second Vatican Council (1962- 65).

Skillin kept the magazine on a liberal course, opposing Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch-hunts in the 1950s, as well as US involvement in Vietnam and Central America. He also wrote widely on rural and workers' issues and supported racial integration.

On birth control, he was broadly critical of Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which condemned the use of artificial means of contraception, though he remained open to other views.

Born in New York into a Catholic family of partial Scottish ancestry, Skillin lost his mother when he was 12 and was brought up by his father. He gained his first degree in modern languages at Williams College in Massachusetts in 1925 and - after rejection by The Commonweal - joined the staff of the publishers Henry Holt as a textbook salesman. …