The future of Scotland’s only Catholic national newspaper has been thrown into doubt after its London-based owners have put it up for sale, says Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper.
Shareholders of the Catholic Herald Group have informed Scotland’s bishops they are looking for a buyer for the 130-year-old paper, following several years of significant circulation decline.
The group has said a Scottish investor or new owners would ‘better understand’ and serve needs of Scotland’s Catholics.
It is understood the paper is on sale for £350,000, while the city centre offices would come in at an additional £115,000.
The Herald says that senior church sources have played down the role of political differences as being a key factor in the sale.
“The Catholic Herald’s editorial director Damian Thompson has been a vocal critic of elements of the church’s Scottish hierarchy, accusing them of being SNP supporters and even using the term ‘PapeNat’ on social media while referring to Catholics who support either the party or Scottish independence,” said the Herald.
One Herald source said a severing of the ties with Scotland was “a happy by-product” with weekly sales dipping to between 5000 and 6000 the crucial factor.
“The Observer has had pretty much total editorial autonomy from London, which has had a steady stream of profits flowing down, so its not that they see it as a the ecclesiastical voice of Scottish nationalism.
“The way sales are going within a few years they could be down to 1000 sales a week and then its absolutely worthless. As it stands it still does relatively well as a commercial organisation but it’s difficult to see how the Observer can survive in its current format.
Founded in 1885, the Catholic Observer features church from Scotland, as well as regular international church news and reports from the Vatican. The paper has been owned by the Catholic Herald newspaper group for over 40 years.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: “The Bishops of Scotland would hope that continuity of production could be retained allowing Scotland to keep an indigenous Catholic weekly.”
The move comes as the same time that The Universe is actively engaged in promoting its titles across Scotland, highlighting its high profile UK EU Referendum debate series.
Universe CEO and Managing Editor Joseph Kelly said he hoped that the Observer would find a buyer, but that times were hard for many Catholic publications.
“We’re all going through the same market shifts that secular newspapers are facing, and that’s especially challenging. We have to embrace digital technologies and other means of delivering Catholic news, including beyond the parish network, and that requires significant resources and innovation, which has to be achieved within very limited budgets,” said Mr Kelly.
The Second Vatican Council document Communio et Progressio called on the Church and laity to actively support the Catholic press and to read Catholic publications regularly.
“It is hard to see how people can keep in touch with what is happening in the Church without the Catholic press,” the document said.