D.P.: I’m excited about the energy we’re building through live events, and the growth of our Commonweal Local Communities nationwide. Together with development of a new podcast, we’re aiming to bring Commonweal “out of the pages,” if you will, and directly to our readership in new ways that also help strengthen connections across a vibrant, vital community. It also seems the long-assumed demise of print has not quite come to pass, and that more people read “promiscuously”—in various formats, across mobile, desktop, and page. So I’m looking forward to a re-envisioned print version of Commonweal, built to highlight the kind of thoughtful, long-form writing we’ve traditionally specialized in, yet reflecting the different ways people engage with the important matters we cover.
T.B.: Commonweal has a 94-year history—what is the one tradition or thread from the past that you most want to hang onto?
D.P.: “Part of the price of independence has been Commonweal’s periodic ostracism from various church and political circles,” as our own official history notes. We should wear this particular aspect of the past with pride, as it’s proof of our ongoing commitment to larger interests and beliefs—in the primacy of conscience, in faithful dissent, in the refusal to shrink from the contentious debates.
T.B.: How would you assess Commonweal’s strengths and weaknesses right now?
D.P.: Commonweal’s editorial staff and contributing writers have always set it apart, something especially imparted to me—by his example and through his careful attention to my own writing efforts—by Paul Baumann. Editorial rigor and integrity is in our DNA, and we’re as strong here now as at any time in our history. As for weaknesses: I think we could more assertively stake out our identity as an independent lay Catholic voice in today’s discussions about religion in politics and culture. Amid the clamor and disaffection of these times, in an ever more diverse cultural and media environment, what are we doing to meet the next generation of Commonweal readers “where they are”? Or to develop new audiences and build on the natural affinities we might share with them?
T.B.: These can seem like perilous times for print media, and the outlook for American Catholicism can also be discouraging. What is the role for a publication like ours?
D.P.: “No Catholic has been immune from the pressures of his or her age,” the writer Andrew Sullivan recently observed. I might add: nor has any publication! But his comment offers helpful perspective, even inspiration. Commonweal can serve as a counterexample to pessimism and cynicism. We can acknowledge the real criticisms that people of good conscience and good faith have about their institutions, while reminding them as well of the vitality of Catholic belief as it relates to the common good, as it informs how we choose to live day to day, and as it affects our engagements with all we encounter.