Commonweal in the 1950s
In the 1950s, Commonweal was variously described as “doing a tremendous disservice to the Catholic church and a great service to the Communist party” (Joseph McCarthy, 1953) and “dancing on a tight rope over the gulf of excommunication” (author Paul Blanshard, 1953), and summoned (by telegram) to an “ecclesiastical trial for heresy” by a weekly diocesan newspaper for allowing untutored laypeople to write theological opinions on matters of culture. Around this time, too, the term “Commonweal Catholic” became popular, as the magazine actively engaged questions on what it meant to be a “liberal Catholic” in the context of Catholic cultural freedom and Catholic positions on civil rights, McCarthyism, the Korean War, and presidential politics.
As we continue to mark our ninetieth year of publication, we focus this month on Commonweal in the 1950s.
Budd Schulberg writes on the “waterfront priest” Father John Corridan, who “doesn't have to draw on any books or second-hand knowledge when he describes the life of a longshoreman's wife in her cold-water railroad flat, pinching pennies to feed her kids.” Walker Percy comments on the midcentury revival of Americans’ interest in the Civil War. J. F. Powers contributes a short story, and Martin Tunnel examines the religious novel, from Bernanos to Greene to Waugh.
Thomas Merton reflects on the meaning and practice of of self-denial, Reinhold Niebuhr provides a "non-Catholic estimate of American Catholicism," while Eugene McCarthy writes on being Christian and a politician.