Retired Bishop of Lancaster was recalling row with Labour MP over Fit for Mission document

A retired bishop who was accused of being a “fundamentalist” during a row over Catholic education has said he is “still baffled” by a lack of public support from his fellow bishops at the time.

In 2007 Emeritus Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster was accused of taking a fundamentalist line by Labour MP Barry Sheerman, then chairman of the Commons select committee on education. The remark came after the publication of the bishop’s landmark document “Fit for Mission? Schools”, which urged schools to be more faithful to their Catholic identity.

In an interview with Oremus, the Westminster Cathedral magazine, published this month, Bishop O’Donoghue said: “I was disappointed that none of my bishops publicly defended me … I’m still baffled as to why my brother bishops didn’t support me.

“However, looking back, what is uppermost in my mind is the prompt and unequivocal support I received from many dicasteries of the Holy See and from hundreds of ordinary Catholics around the world,” the bishop said. He cited support he received from his secretary at the time, Fr Robert Billing, and Deacon Nick Donnelly.

His education document, which called for a greater focus on the catechism, crucifixes in every classroom and for every student to participate in Mass, was praised by several Vatican officials, including Cardinal William Levada, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Mr Sheerman said: “A group of bishops appear to be taking a much firmer line and I think it would be useful to call representatives of the Catholic church in front of the committee to find out what is going on.

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

Bishop O’Donoghue was subsequently questioned by the Commons committee led by Mr Sheerman. “I was a wonderful opportunity to defend on the national stage the right of our Catholic schools to be truly Catholic,” he told Oremus.

He cited Pope Francis saying we must “defend our schools from ‘ideological colonisation'”, and suggested that compulsory sex education could be a “Trojan horse” to impose “gender ideology and sexual permissiveness on Catholic children from an early age”.

In his interview with Oremus Bishop O’Donoghue also said he hoped the Archdiocese of Westminster would one day present the Cause of Cardinal Basil Hume to the Holy See. “He was a great friend and I am sure his genuine holiness and easy approach drew many people to the Cathedral,” the bishop said.