As the Tablet approaches its 175th birthday, a former editor has told how the Catholic weekly challenged the Pope's controversial ban on artifiicial birth control in 1968.
First published in 1840, the title will celebrate its anniversary on 16 May with a Thanksgiving Mass at Westminster Cathedral.
In the latest edition of magazine, which recorded an average circulation of 20,325 in 2014, John Wilkins, editor between 1982 and 2003, told how a former Catholic Archbishop of Westminster declared in 1968 that "he no longer considered the Tablet to be a Catholic paper".
Wilkins joined the title as assistant editor in 1967, the same year the long-serving Douglas Woodruff was replaced as editor by Tom Burns.
The next year, Burns fell out with his predecessor, the Archbishop of Westminster and the Vatican over the Tablet's coverage of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, which banned the use of artificial birth control.
As well as writing an editorial opposing the Pope's encyclical, Burns published a number of articles critical of it. One piece, by Dom David Knowles – the former Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge – was "seized" on by Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, which published it in full under the headline: “The Tablet supports Humanae Vitae”.
Wilkins wrote in his piece last week: "The dissension was unparalleled. We heard there were discussions in the apostolic delegation, as it then was, as to whether the Tablet editor could be censored or removed.
"Certainly the delegate, Archbishop Igino Eugenio Cardinale, told Woodruff that the Pope was feeling 'sorrow and disappointment'. The Tablet had been his Bible, now it had become his Apocrypha."
Former editor Woodruff also fell out with his successor in a rift that "never really healed".
And the coverage resulted in editor Burns taking a call from Cardinal Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster, telling him "that he no longer considered The Tablet to be a Catholic paper, saying: 'I gave orders that you were to be treated in exactly the same way as the rest of the secular press.'"
Wilkins wrote: "Burns never wavered in his conviction that he had to speak up for that large part of the sensus fidelium [sense of the faith] that needed a voice. In upholding the right and duty of the lay Catholic press fearlessly to reflect such opinion, he put the Church in his debt.
"Many today consider Humanae Vitae to be past history. As far as the Magisterium is concerned, it is not. Tom’s verdict remains prescient.
"The matter is now before the bar of conscience, he said, where it is likely to remain for a long time."
The Tablet was founded by Frederick Lucas, a Quaker convert to Catholicism, and claims to be the second oldest surviving UK weekly jounal after the Spectator, which has been published since 1828.
Editor Catherine Pepinster said: “Only a few publications in Britain have lasted as long as 175 years. That a Catholic publication should have done so, given the tempestuous history of Roman Catholicism in this country, is testimony not only to The Tablet’s journalism but to the capacity for a minority group to thrive in Britain.
“The Tablet has charted how Catholics have come in from the cold and are now at the centre of life in our country. The Tablet has also recorded the life of the worldwide Catholic Church too, including covering 13 popes.
“But it has never been the mouthpiece of the Church and its popes. It is, above all, a voice of the laity, a unique vehicle for dialogue and conversation within the Church.”