By Hilary White

LANCASTER, UK, September 22, 2008 ( – The Vatican has given a ringing endorsement of a paper by a UK bishop that calls for the restoration of genuine doctrine and practice in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Just over three weeks after the release of the document Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, has written to Bishop Patrick O’Donohue to recommend his new book, “Fit for Mission? Church”, saying it provides “an effective, practical instrument for advancing the much heralded New Evangelisation.”

“If this renewal of the Faith is to take root, it cannot remain a mere ‘slogan but must be woven into the web of contemporary culture.  Fit for Mission? Church gives much needed indication as to the means of accomplishing this great mission of the Church,” the archbishop wrote.”

In his introduction, Bishop O’Donohue wrote that the document was produced to help “foster and promote an authentic Catholic identity.” Catholics, he said, face “the challenge of secular humanism, the question of moral values in a scientific-technological culture, and the increasing tensions caused by reason sundered from faith.”

The loss of Catholic identity, he wrote, stems from the rejection of true Catholic doctrine within the Church’s structures, coupled with a widespread misinterpretation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Asking, “Have we forgotten what it means to be Catholic?”, he continued, “We have all witnessed with alarm many who profess to be Catholics disavowing the Church’s teaching authority… dismissing apostolic traditions and the doctrines of the Fathers and giving the place of honour to the fashionable opinions of society.”

The Lancaster diocese made the document public at the end of August as a response to a 16-month consultation process examining their 108 parishes. The document is a stinging criticism of the severe decline of the Catholic institution in Britain and its failure substantially to respond to the increasingly secularist culture.

In March this year, after the publication of his previous paper, “Fit for Mission? Schools”, in which the bishop called for the restoration of a genuine Catholic character to the Catholic schools, Bishop O’Donohue was called before a Parliamentary education committee to answer the government’s charges of “fundamentalism.”

Archbishop Piacenza also said the Congregation was “somewhat amazed” over the opposition by government to the “schools” document, calling O’Donohue’s initiative “an appropriate and legitimate exercise of Episcopal authority by a Successor of the Apostles charged by God, and by the Church, to ensure that the Faith is transmitted correctly and in its entirety, to the People of God entrusted to his care.” 

O’Donohue’s criticism of secularised “values-free” sex education was particularly galling to government education officials, who face accusations that their programs have done nothing but exacerbate the teen pregnancy problem. But while government officials browbeat the bishop in a committee hearing, William Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a ringing endorsement, saying he was “delighted” with the schools document that, he said, “challenges the ascendancy” of relativism.

Bishop O’Donohue wrote in the schools document, “Parents, schools and colleges must reject secularized and anti-life sex education, which puts God at the margin of life and regards the birth of a child as a threat.”

“Fit for Mission? Church” reiterates the bishop’s concerns over the decline is the genuine Catholic character in the Church and even more strongly condemns Britain’s love affair with the Culture of Death. He points to Britain’s acceptance of abortion as the solution to unexpected pregnancy, saying it has contributed to the country’s growing violent crime problem.

“For 41 years we’ve lived in a state-sponsored culture of death that has killed five million children, and we’re now surprised that some of the surviving children have turned out violent with no regard for the sanctity of life?” he wrote. 

“How many children know that their mothers have had an abortion? What effect will it have on them knowing that they have been deprived of a brother or sister through abortion?

“If a society holds human life so cheaply is it any surprise that young people will also hold life cheaply and engage in violence?”

He pointed specifically to the acceptance of abortion by government as a contributing factor, saying when the state sponsors “crimes against life is it any wonder that criminality in general thrives, and seeks to take advantage of the coarsening and darkening of conscience?”

While his fellow bishops have remained silent on both documents, Bishop O’Donohue has received the enthusiastic support of a multitude of Catholic bloggers, most of whom differ strongly with the prevailing ultra-liberal position of the Catholic Church of England and Wales. Many have expressed their hopes that, despite coming close to retirement age himself, he will be chosen to replace the soon-to-retire Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor in the see of Westminster.

One blog commenter noted, “Perhaps if more of our Bishops were as sharp and outspoken as Bishop O’Donohue we would not now be facing the ‘Modern Britain’ that is fast becoming the world leader in anti-life and anti-family government sponsored policy.”

Read related coverage:

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

Exclusive: Retiring UK Bishop Reveals No Consensus among Brother Bishops over Same-sex Adoption

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