By Hilary White

LANCASTER, UK, January 7, 2008 ( – The Catholic bishop of Lancaster’s plans to have his Catholic schools use Catholic doctrine from the Catechism of the Catholic Church has infuriated hard-line secularists and anti-religious voices in Parliament. Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of the North West city has issued a 66-page document that outlines his determination to shift his schools back to a genuinely Catholic religious character, especially in catechesis, from which many parents and lay people say the Church in England has been steadily drifting for decades.

The Lancaster document will apply to all the schools, both primary and secondary, in his diocese. In it, Bishop O’Donohue calls for teachers to use science to teach about the “truths of the faith”, recognise and respect the role of parents in teaching children about sex and mention sex only within the sacrament of marriage.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the virulently anti-Catholic National Secular Society (NSS), said, “I do not think the state should be funding Catholic indoctrination.” The NSS has long campaigned for the abolition of any public funding for religious schools, and the erasure of any religious character in British public life.

“The bishop, it seems, wants to introduce a Taliban-style regime of Catholic orthodoxy in his diocese’s schools,” Terry Sanderson wrote for the NSS website. “It is time for [education minister] Ed Balls to do what other education ministers have not had the guts to do – tell the Archbishops and the bishops that their time is up in schools.”

Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield and chairman of the parliamentary cross-party committee on children, schools and families, said he wants some English Catholic bishops to “meet” with the committee. The move was related, he said, to a rise in “fundamentalism” among religious leaders, a clear allusion to British fears of Islamic extremism.

Sheerman was quoted in the far-left Guardian newspaper: “A group of bishops appear to be taking a much firmer line and I think it would be useful to call representatives of the Catholic church in front of the committee to find out what is going on.”

He continued, saying, “It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But as soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude questions have to be asked. It does become worrying when you get a new push from more fundamentalist bishops. This is taxpayers’ money after all.”

The bishop’s reform, however, received high praise from the Vatican’s Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, Secretary for the Congregation for Clergy who said, “The Congregation is especially pleased as your pastoral plan is precisely that which was called for in the ‘General Directory for Catechesis’ after the release of the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’” (CCC).

In the document, the bishop insists that religious education teachers and those developing curricula use the Catechism and related sources. The instruction says to make the CCC available in school libraries and to each teacher and to include it in the classrooms from primary to secondary schools and to train teachers in its use.

Bishop O’Donohue wrote, “The secular view on sex outside of marriage, artificial contraception, sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and AIDS, and abortion, may not be presented as neutral information … parents, schools and colleges must also reject the promotion of so-called ‘safe sex’ or ‘safer sex’, a dangerous and immoral policy based on the deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against AIDS.”

Despite the fury of anti-Catholic groups, Bishop O’Donoghue said he was “overwhelmed” by the positive response he has received from Catholics. “Before Christmas, my office was inundated with congratulations, enquiries, and requests for copies of Fit for Mission? Schools from within the diocese, from around the country and internationally.”

Fr. Timothy Finigan, a pro-life activist and theology lecturer wrote on his weblog, “I have not read the whole document yet but even just skimming through, I am bowled over by it…frankly this is in a different league from anything I have seen in terms of school policy in over 23 years as a priest.”

Fr. Finigan, however, warned that the biggest danger to Catholic schools is not from outside. “t is likely that much of the most serious trouble will come from people within the Catholic education system itself: senior staff, governors and officials who will be outraged that the Church should suggest that they actually follow the teaching of the Catechism.”
Read the text of the document (Adobe reader required):

To contact Bishop O’Donohue:
Office (01524) 596050
Bishop’s Apartment,
Cathedral House,
Balmoral Road,
Lancaster, UK.

Read related coverage:

UK Catholic Bishop to Schools: Lessons on Sex, Contraception Etc May Not be Presented as “Neutral Info”