Wednesday 12 March 2008

Bishop stands up under fire

Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster came under fire at a meeting of the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Select Committee.

Fiona McTaggart MP challenged the bishop on the fact that his recent guidance to Catholic schools (Fit for Mission? – Schools) indicated that they should not support fund-raising appeals with an anti-life ethos. He pointed out that it was not feasible to expect Catholics to support organisations – despite the good work they might do – if their leadership adopted policies contrary to basic Christian principles. The bishop emphasised that the values upheld by Catholic schools in his diocese were values shared by those of other faiths, such as Moslems, at Catholic schools.

The Bishop was also criticised for saying in the document that schools in his diocese should see it as their prime duty to teach the Catholic faith and to evangelise. Committee members said they thought this meant non-Catholic pupils were to be proselytised. The Bishop denied this – pointing to the distinction between genuine evangelisation – proclaiming the truth to others – and proselytisation, which was characterised as coercive.

Barry Sheerman MP, the Committee Chairman, asked if Church leaders were not worried that it seemed that church schools had become adept at keeping out poor and needy children.

The Bishop said that Catholic schools [within the state ‘comprehensive school’ system] should not be selective, and said he would intervene if schools were found to have been selecting children on the basis of their social class. He maintained, however that admission quotas for different class or religious groups should not be imposed on schools.

On the question of interfaith schools, the committee chairman asked whether there had been a change in policy under Pope Benedict XVI (or, as Barry Sheerman impolitely put it: under the “present occupant of the Vatican”!) Bishop O’Donoghue said the policy had not changed as far as he was aware – not in his diocese.

If you want to write to congratulate Bishop O’Donoghue for his brave defence of values, particularly pro-life values, during his questioning in Parliament today, write to him at: Bishop’s Apartment, Cathedral House, Balmoral Road, Lancaster, LA1 3BT.