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UK bishops’ Catholic education service hits out at pro-life critics

The UK’s Catholic Education Service has hit back at pro-life critics of the organization’s newly appointed deputy director, a former Labour party MP with a long anti-life and anti-family voting record, reports Hilary White,

Oona Stannard, director of the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales (CESEW), a body of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said in a statement that she had received some “very misleading and diverting correspondence from a small number of people” regarding the appointment of Greg Pope, the former MP for the Hyndburn riding in East Lancashire.

Greg Pope, a self-declared “Blairite,” had been a Labour Party MP since 1992. During his tenure Pope voted against measures to lower the gestational age limit for legal abortion and against a proposal to require information and counseling for mothers before eugenic abortions. He opposed efforts to require that parents be informed when their children are seeking abortion or contraception and repeatedly supported numerous motions and declarations praising the country’s most prominent abortionist groups.

He voted three times to reduce the age of consent for homosexual acts from 18 to 16 and voted for same-sex civil unions and “gay” adoption. In 2003, Pope voted to abolish a prohibition on promoting homosexuality in schools, Section 28, that homosexualist activists regard as a watershed vote in their movement.

Stannard, however, chastised critics, saying, “At a time when as Catholics we particularly need to pull together, the undermining of Mr. Pope saddens me. Mr. Pope deserves our encouragement and support in his new role undertaken in the service of the Church.”

Last week, John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), wrote that the appointment, approved by CESEW chairman Bishop Malcolm McMahon, was just one more in a long string of actions by the Catholic authorities that had left faithful Catholics feeling betrayed by their leadership.

SPUC has been heavily critical of the CESEW’s involvement in helping to draft and defend the Labour government’s sex-education regulations and bill, which they have called “a cornucopia of anti-life and anti-family ideas.”

“Parents, clergy, teachers and other concerned citizens, both Catholic and non-Catholic,” Smeaton wrote, “have already been outraged by the CES's shameful complicity with the government and the pro-abortion lobby in spreading the culture of death.”

In her statement, Stannard added that although Greg Pope’s main tasks will be organizational management, “he will be involved in policy work. In this and all aspects of his role he is required to uphold the Church’s teachings.”

“This is a responsibility that he has willingly committed to undertake and I have every confidence that he will fulfill this expectation,” Stannard added.

But Smeaton responded, asking, “On what basis does she have this confidence? Did he renounce those aspects of his parliamentary record?”

Smeaton recalled the apology over the sex abuse scandals issued last week by Westminster Archbishop Vincent Nichols that expressed the hierarchy’s “deep shame.” Nichols apologized “to those who have suffered abuse, those who have felt ignored, disbelieved or betrayed.”

“That is all very well,” Smeaton wrote, “but neither Archbishop Nichols, nor Bishop McMahon, nor Oona Stannard have apologised for exposing schoolchildren to abuse via government-led sex education.”

Greg Pope himself issued a statement, declaring himself to be “a committed, practising Catholic” and saying he does not want to “debate the minutiae” of his “previous voting tactics.”

“I very much share the Church’s opposition to abortion,” he said. “I was one of only a handful of Labour MPs who defied their own Government to vote against the whole Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill at its Third Reading on the grounds that it was insufficiently pro-life.”

“I really want look forward now to how I can serve the Catholic Church through its Education Service rather than debate the minutiae of previous voting tactics in the House of Commons.”

But Smeaton said, “Can Mr. Pope understand why Catholics, pro-lifers and pro-family campaigners who've studied his lengthy and appalling anti-life and anti-family parliamentary record may not be content to allow matters to rest there?

“Is Oona Stannard able to understand that Catholics and pro-life and pro-family campaigners feel that it is they who are being undermined and, I would say, oppressed by episcopal policy in England and Wales on sex and relationships education and, not least, through this latest appointment?”

A spokesman for the organization told that the statement had not been published on the CESEW’s website, but had only been sent directly to enquirers. When asked by LSN whether CESEW believes that a former MP’s long-term voting record is irrelevant to his current positions or beliefs, she responded, “We’ve already said everything we’re going to say on this subject, and have no further comment.”

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