By Hilary White

LANCASTER, UK, December 12, 2007 ( – The Catholic bishop of Lancaster in the north west of England, has issued a set of instructions to the schools in his diocese to say they must become more focussed on the Catholic faith, including on key life and family issues, “at a time when Catholic education is being challenged by some.”

Catholic schools must become more Catholic, wrote Patrick O’Donoghue in the instructions, titled “Fit for Mission,” that were issued last week and described as “radical” in the Catholic press.

The instructions are based on “four pillars” based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, given by the bishop as the foundation of Catholic education. “The Profession of Faith” of the Apostles’ Creed, the sacraments, the Catholic teaching on the moral life and prayer.

The instruction specifically admonishes schools to “always teach sex within the sacrament of marriage.” With sex education being made compulsory by government, the bishop writes that he is “concerned” that students are being given mixed messages about sexual activity. He writes that it “paramount” to teach about sex only within the context of “the Church’s teaching on sexuality and the sacrament of marriage”.

“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.” Schools in his diocese must follow principles set out by Church documents. The instruction says, “No material of an erotic nature must be presented either individually or in a group and sexual instruction must respect modesty and pupils own sensitivity or sense of privacy.”

On bringing pro-abortion and other anti-life speakers into schools, the bishop’s language is even stronger, saying that “under no circumstances” can outside speakers be brought into the schools who are “not fully qualified to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church… on sexual or any other matter involving faith and morals.” The bishop unambiguously prohibited his schools from promoting charities that support “anti-life policies” such as Red Nose Day and Amnesty International.

He writes that schools “have an important part to play” in teaching students how to judge “issues of justice and peace…such as the emerging ‘culture of death’, [and] the promotion of a so called ‘human rights’ culture that infringes religious liberty”.

Under the last section, parents who had been urging Catholic schools to refocus on the basics, will be encouraged to see the bishop has relied on traditional elements such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Rosary, the lives of saints and mediation on scripture.

Daphne McLeod, Chairman of the Catholic lay organisation, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, said that the bishop’s initiative is “very promising.” The group works to encourage greater adherence to doctrine in Catholic institutions. Mcleod told, “We’re very pleased about it. He is admitting that there is room for improvement and is doing something about it.” McLeod said the failings of religious instruction in the Catholic schools in Britain have been noted for years by parents who are increasingly choosing to join the small but growing ranks of homeschoolers.

“It’s the same in all the dioceses,” she said, because of two texts for religious instruction, approved by the bishops for use in all Catholic schools, “Here I Am” for primary children and “Icons” for secondary students. McLeod called these “inadequate” not for what was included but for what is left out.

“The term ‘sanctifying grace’ has been banned in Catholics schools for years and Bishop O’Donoghue is specifically instructing that it be taught,” she said. “I know a teacher who was sacked for teaching the Rosary and he wants to teach the Rosary. It’s very encouraging.”