A Commons select committee is to investigate evidence that the Roman Catholic Church is pursuing a more fundamentalist approach towards religion in its schools.
Members of the Children, Schools and Families Committee plan to call senior bishops to give evidence in an inquiry into the approach schools are adopting towards a range of issues – including abortion, sex education and PSHE (personal and social health education) classes.
The move comes after a 66-page circular from the Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O'Donoghue, instructed Catholic schools in the North-west to stop "safe sex" education and place crucifixes in every classroom.
Schools were also told not to support charities that promote or fund pro-choice policies, singling out Amnesty International – which is in favour of abortion for women who have been raped in war zones. Barry Sheerman, the Labour chairman of the committee, said there was evidence from other areas of the country of Catholic schools being told to adopt a more fundamentalist line.
Mr Sheerman said the official spokesmen for the Catholic Church often peddled a softer line – but that was 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," he added. "We seem to have a shift in emphasis on the ground despite what the reasonable voices of the leadership are saying.
"Two years ago, it was possible to set up an inter-faith academy in Liverpool (jointly run by the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England)," he said. However, an attempt to set up a similar school in the Huddersfield area – where he is a constituency MP – had been scuppered when a letter had been read out in all parishes prior to a meeting to discuss criticism of politicians for trying to dilute Catholic education. "I just want to know why it is not now possible to set up an inter-faith school," Mr Sheerman said.
Teachers' leaders have also expressed concern.
In his document, Fit for Mission, Bishop O'Donoghue wrote: "The secular view on sex outside marriage, artificial contraception, sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and Aids, and abortion, may not be presented as neutral information."