By Hilary White

LANCASTER, UK September 4, 2009 ( – A document on the meaning of marriage by the former Catholic bishop of Lancaster will be the focus of a Vatican conference next week in Rome. In the document, Bishop Patrick O’Donohue, whose insistence that Catholic schools in his diocese return to a more meaningful Catholic identity earned him accusations of “fundamentalism” by parliamentarians, has been revealed in recent years as one of Britain’s staunchest episcopal defenders of the Catholic teachings on the sacredness of human life and the family.

Bishop Emeritus O’Donohue, who in May stepped down as the head of the Lancaster diocese in north western England, wrote that sexual ethics are “written into our very being as humans”.

“We must reject as utterly false the ‘urban myth’ current in the media and society that human beings are naturally promiscuous and that adultery is only ‘human’. The degree of suffering and heartache among couples, their extended families and children is proof that this is a lie,” he said.

O’Donohue said that “men and women are hard-wired by biology, psychology and spiritual nature to thrive in monogamous, faithful, life-long marriages that are open to the new life of children.”

Ennio Cardinal Antonelli, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, wrote personally to Bishop O’Donohue congratulating him on his retirement and for his contribution to the mission of the Church in the series of documents.

The Cardinal wrote, “Indeed, characterised by the loving proclamation of the Catholic Truth and Doctrine, and leaving behind an excellent legacy of the Fit for Mission publications, your episcopal office has and will continue to spread the gospel of Christ for many years to come, not only within the Lancaster Diocese, but even well beyond the confines of its ecclesiastical territory.”

Following his two previous documents, “Fit for Mission – Schools?” (2007) and “Fit for Mission – Church” (2008),  “Fit for Mission? Marriage” now serves as the diocese’s marriage preparation course. The series of Fit for Mission works by O’Donohue have been praised at the highest levels of the Church for their diagnosis and suggested treatment of Britain’s failing Catholic culture.

The purpose of the course is to promote among couples preparing for marriage “acceptance of the full teaching of the Church concerning marriage and Catholic sexual ethics”. This includes explanations of the moral inacceptability of contraception, sterilisation and in vitro fertilisation.

Course presenters are warned that it is not “acceptable” to present their personal opinions as the teaching of the Church or “to express any personal doubts or criticisms of Church teaching, particularly with regard to contraception”. Presentation of the fullness of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, the documents say, is not a matter of “blind obedience” but matter of charitably helping couples have the best chance of success in marriage.

Bishop O’Donohue wrote, “Now more than ever, society needs the witness of couples committed to unity, indissolubility, fidelity and openness to life. The Church needs Catholic couples to witness to the Gospel of life and, particularly, to show the world that there are realistic alternatives to contraception, abortion, IVF and divorce.”

Bishop O’Donohue has accepted a retirement position as assistant pastor of a parish church in his native Cork, Ireland.

Read related coverage:

UK Catholic Bishop Before Parliament for Insisting on Crucifixes in Every Classroom and Truly Catholic Sex-Ed 

Lancaster Bishop Pulls Funding from Ex-Catholic Adoption Agency 

English Catholic Bishops have Failed to Admit “Sickness” of Dissent in the Church: Lancaster Bishop 

Vatican Strongly Endorses Document Calling for Restoration of Authentic Catholicism in England

Vatican’s Highest Doctrinal Office Endorses Lancaster Bishop’s Church Reform Challenge