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An Interview with Luke Coppen

by Gordon Nary

Gordon: Where did you attend university, what degree did you earn, what was your favorite subject, and why was it your favorite?

Luke: I studied the religion and politics of Africa and Asia at the School of Oriental and African (SOAS), part of the University of London. My favorite topic was Eastern Christianity, which I studied under the brilliant Andrew Palmer, who opened my eyes to the richness of the ancient Oriental Orthodox Churches.

Gordon: You served as Editor of Catholic Herald Magazine for 16 years. According to Damian Thompson. Associate Editor of The Spectator, you transformed the Catholic Herald into a wonderful magazine. Please share with our readers an overview of the challenges and success of your work there.

Luke: When I became editor of the Catholic Herald in 2004, I was a rather naive 28-year-old. It was a weekly broadsheet newspaper of, I think, 12 pages. With a team of talented journalists (many of them young), we were able to expand to 20 pages.

The most memorable moment of my editorship was Benedict XVI’s 2010 visit to Britain, which we covered both in the newspaper and live online. We prepared intensively for the visit, our coverage went according to plan, and I was so proud of the result.

In 2014, we made the difficult but necessary transition from a newspaper to a magazine. The change enabled us to focus on longer-form journalism and make a foray into the U.S. Catholic market.

You referred to Damian Thompson. Throughout my editorship, he was an invaluable support and source of wise guidance. I am deeply grateful for his friendship.

Gordon: When did you serve as Europe editor of Catholic News Agency and what is one of the most memorable stories that you covered while you were there?

Luke: I had this role from March 2020 - the start of the coronavirus crisis - to June 2022. It was an especial privilege to cover the 2021 papal visit to Iraq, a momentous, hope-filled event at a dark time for humanity.

Gordon: What were some of the challenges of serving as Europe Editor?

Luke: The biggest challenge was to offer comprehensive coverage of developments across Europe. It was difficult because the continent is so linguistically and culturally varied. Catholicism takes on a different shape from nation to nation, and it’s important to grasp the nuances.

It was also challenging to write up developments in Europe in a way that engaged a largely U.S. readership: trying to make the case for why they should care about, say, a beatification in Poland or an archbishop in Liechtenstein refusing to take part in the global synodal process.

Gordon: What story were you proudest of at Catholic News Agency and why were you proud of it?

Luke: I really enjoyed writing stories about Europe’s World War II saints, including Titus Brandsma and the Ulma family. Their lives had a spine-tingling quality and I relished the chance to try to convey their stories to a 21st-century readership.

Gordon: What impact has your faith had upon your work?

Luke: It’s been the greatest help to my work. Journalism - especially reporting - raises all kinds of moral dilemmas, some of them quite difficult to resolve. When they arise, technical skills and experience are useful, but I’ve always needed something more: to bring the dilemma before God and ask for light. I have made countless mistakes, but never felt deprived of light when I sought it.

When I started to report on the Catholic Church, the Catholic Herald’s managing director called me into his office and said: “I hope this doesn’t destroy your faith.” Despite the unending scandals and the unremitting grimness of some aspects of the Church, I’ve found the opposite: that Catholic journalism has increased my faith.

I am deeply grateful that, in my present role at The Pillar, I’m able to continue seeking to convey the beauty and complexity of Catholicism to readers around the world.

Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.

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