By Hilary White

LONDON, March 12, 2008 ( – The Catholic Bishop of Lancaster UK today gave a spirited response to accusations by secularist MPs in a Commons Committee who accused him of trying to establish religious “fundamentalism” in his schools. Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue told the Committee that schools in his diocese should see it as their prime duty to teach the Catholic faith and to evangelise and that this constituted neither “proselytism” nor “fundamentalism”.

Crucifixes in every classroom, “sex-education” based on the principles of chastity and the sanctity of marriage, no school fundraising for anti-life groups and religious education based firmly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: it sounds like the dream world of most Catholic parents. But the scenario is one that was ordered last year by the Bishop O’Donoghue in a 66-page document, “Fit for Mission? – Schools”. The document was circulated to all teachers, staff, governors and parents in the diocese.

But the document that received high praise from parents, Catholic lay organizations and the Vatican, has drawn the ire of the increasingly aggressive secularist wing of the British government. Earlier this year, the Labour MP for Huddersfield, Barry Sheerman, told the media that this new document was a worrying sign of a new “fundamentalist” direction on the part of the Church. Sheerman, the chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, called Bishop O’Donoghue to explain his intentions.

Sheerman told media, “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.” Sheerman said, “It does become worrying when you get a new push from more fundamentalist bishops. This is taxpayers’ money after all.”

But Bishop O’Donoghue replied in the Daily Mail, “They (the MPs) see me as a fundamentalist and that is a pejorative word these days with connotations of terrorism, violence and irrationality. I will say I reject these connotations.”

Appearing before the committee with the Stephen Venner, the Anglican bishop of Dover, and Peter Irvine of the Catholic Education Service, O’Donoghue said the document was necessary when he found that the Catholic religious instruction in the schools had been “marginalized” even within the Religious Education department.

MP Fiona McTaggart said she found it “surprising” that the document bans the various fundraising activities such as the Red Nose day, and Amnesty International, in which children were encouraged to support anti-family and pro-abortion organizations and activities. She also objected to the instruction to remove materials from school libraries that “contain polemic against religion in general” such as the works of Karl Marx and French nihilist philosopher Albert Camus.

Bishop O’Donoghue responded, “Supposing you went into a school and you found in the library material that said the Holocaust has never taken place.”

Bishop O’Donoghue told the six committee members, “Every school has a philosophy. And a philosophy which puts God at the centre and morality as objective, is no less powerful than that which says God is irrelevant and morality is up to the individual choice.”

“To our view, the role of democracy is to embrace all views, and not to infringe on basic human rights.”   

He said “the impression that is coming across” from politics and the media is that “some people seem to think that the only true democratic stance is the latter, namely that God is irrelevant and that morality is up to the individual.”

The bishop told media that the document had come in response to pressure from parents. “Many parents go to great lengths to bring up their children properly and they feel that schools are not cooperating with them as well as they should,” he said.

He told the Daily Mail that the government’s sex education policies had failed. 30 years of “throwing condoms at children” had drastically increased the levels of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

In “Fit for Mission?” Bishop O’Donoghue wrote, “The secular view on sex outside marriage, artificial contraception, sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and Aids, and abortion, may not be presented as neutral information.”

  Read related coverage:

UK Commons Committee to “Investigate” Catholic Bishop for “Fundamentalism”
  Frenzied Anti-Catholic Reaction to Lancaster Bishop’s Reforms

  View a video of Bishop O’Donohue’s testimony:

Messages may be sent to Bishop O’Donohue at Bishop’s Apartment,
  Cathedral House,
  Balmoral Road,
  Lancaster, UK
  LA1 3BT

  To contact Barry Sheerman:
  House of Commons
  London SW1A 0AA
  Telephone: 020 7219 5037
  Fax: 020 7219 2404
  Email: [email protected]