By Hilary White

  LONDON, February 26, 2008 ( – Last month, reported that a British Parliamentarian had threatened to “investigate” what he called an increase in “fundamentalism” among British Catholic bishops in regulations for Catholic schools. This week, the Independent reports that MP Barry Sheerman, the chairman of a Commons select committee, is going ahead with the investigation.

  The Independent reports that the Children, Schools and Families Committee will “call Catholic bishops to account” for recent isolated attempts to re-install genuine Catholic doctrine on moral and sexual teaching into the schools’ curriculum. The reaction from Parliament comes in response to a document issued by Lancaster Bishop Patrick O’Donohue, “Fit for Mission: Schools,” an instruction to revamp Catholic education in the diocese of Lancaster based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

  Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield and the Labour chairman of the committee, told the Independent that while the spokesmen for the English Catholic Church had “often peddled a softer line” on moral issues, the publication of Fit for Mission seems “at odds” with what was happening “on the ground”.

“A lot of taxpayers’ money is going into church schools and I think we should tease out what is happening here,” said Sheerman. “We seem to have a shift in emphasis on the ground despite what the reasonable voices of the leadership are saying.”

  The Committee will interrogate the bishops on their approach in the schools to abortion, sex education and “PSHE” (personal and social health education).

  But in a pamphlet titled “Will Your Grandchildren be Catholic?” Daphne MacLeod, a Catholic activist and former headmistress, writes that it is precisely this “softer line” preferred by Mr. Sheerman that has eroded the genuine Catholic religious nature of the Church’s schools.

  McLeod, the head of the Catholic education advocacy group, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, told that the investigation by the Parliamentary Committee is an “ominous” stroke by an increasingly aggressive secularist government against religious institutions. The use of the term “fundamentalist” is especially offensive she said, and is a transparent attempt at equating believing Christians with violent Islamic extremism.

“To secularists,” McLeod said, “anyone who actually believes his religion is a ‘fundamentalist’. But Christian ‘fundamentalists’ are the ones who are around the world looking after AIDS patients, who started hospitals and schools.”

  McLeod said the implication that “fundamentalist” Christianity is some kind of threat to the state is an insult. “Let them show us some proof that there is a danger. Christian ‘fundamentalists’ are the ones who practice forgiveness and who are taught to ‘turn the other cheek’. Show us how that is a threat.”

  Fr. Timothy Finigan, a Catholic priest and theology professor who founded the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life, agreed that the use of the term “fundamentalist” was a scare tactic.

  The message, Fr. Finigan wrote, is clear to bishops who dare to step away from the “softer” line of the mainstream of Catholic episcopal leadership. “There’s that ‘F’ word beloved of the secularists everywhere, conjuring up images of suicide bombers, blown-up buses and women in burkhas,” he wrote.

  Sheerman’s comments about tax-funding for the Catholic schools was also a rhetorical attack, Fr. Finigan wrote. “Let’s be clear about this. Catholics also pay tax. The money does not belong to the government, it belongs to us and is given to the government in trust for use for our benefit.”

  Catholic schools in Britain are owned by the Church and operate using tax funding to help maintain buildings. Fr. Finigan wrote, “If Catholic children are not educated in Catholic schools, they will be educated in community schools at the expense of the state anyway.”

“By his emotive appeal, Sheerman is attacking the historic agreement of 1944 with little less subtlety than the ‘No Rome on the Rates’ campaigns of a former era.”

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

  Read related coverage:

  Frenzied Anti-Catholic Reaction to Lancaster Bishop’s Reforms

  Visit Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice website:

  Read Fit for Mission: