It’s like the Holocaust an’ shit, innit..

I must congratulate the Rt Rev Patrick O’Donoghue, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Lancaster, for providing members of the House of Commons’ Children, Schools and Families Select Committee with one of the finest arguments for secular education, I’ve seen in a very, very long time.

The Rt Rev Patrick O’Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster, told MPs that books critical of the Catholic faith should be banned from school libraries.

Asked if that applied to works by authors such as Karl Marx and Albert Camus, he told the Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee: “Suppose you went into a school and found in the library material that said the Holocaust never took place?”

Leaving aside the Bishop’s spectacularly inappropriate and offensive point of comparison, lets remember here that we are talking about the Catholic Church, an institution whose historical predilection for burning burns was, for a long time, matched only by its predilection for burning heretics, so while it comes as no great surprise to find him arguing in favour of censorship there is the little question of motive to be considered here as well.

Responding to his point, committee member Fiona McTaggart MP hit the nail on the head, even if her grammar is a little off in places:

Fiona McTaggart, the Labour MP for Slough, said she was extremely concerned that Catholic sixth-formers would be denied access to great works of fiction as well as non-fiction if the bishop’s ban were implemented. “I would not expect a school to promote material that was lies but I also would also expect children to encounter a wide range of material even if they then need to be given the tools to criticise them,” she said.

To which the Bishop came back with a favourite old chestnut:

But Bishop O’Donoghue defended his stance. “I think there has to be a vetting of material given the age range of children in schools,” he said. “There is certain material that you do not put in front of them.”

Yes, the Bishop is ‘doin’ it fer the kids’ and with that in mind its worth taking a minute or two to consider just what the Catholic Church has historically considered to be the kind of ‘certain material’ that you don’t put in front of their children, or any of their other followers for that matter, which means referring to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum*, the Catholic Church’s official list of banned texts.

* To clarify one important point about the Index, you may read that it was ‘discontinued’ in 1965, which it was, but only ‘sort of’. The Church no longer maintains an actual list of banned texts, for purely logistical reasons, and stripped the Index of its status as church law in 1966, but in the same declaration reasserted the moral obligation of Catholics not to circulate or read texts identified by the Church as ‘endangering’ faith and morals.

You can tell a lot about the mindset of an institution by looking at the kind of material it doesn’t want to read, and in the case of the Catholic Church, even a short of some of the authors who found their way on to the Index makes for very interesting reading.

There were, of course, a number of scientists; the early proponents of heliocentric theory of whom the most famous was, of course, Galilleo, but you’d have also had no trouble finding Copernicus on there together with the less well known figure of Giordano Bruno, who got the works – the church burned his writings and then, in 1600, finished the job by burning Bruno at the stake, although to give them their due they did eventually get around to admitting that they’d been a trifle hasty and apologised for their mistake…

…in 2003.

The index also sported an unquestionably impressive array of philosophers as well; Voltaire, Locke, Hume, Bentham, Mill, Marx, Comte, Diderot, Descartes, Machiavelli, Sartre, Rousseau, Mamonides… although curiously enough neither Nietzche or Schopenhauer even made the list and the Church were not always indiscriminate in their handling of philosophical works. While they banned the complete works of Thomas Hobbes, in the case of Spinoza they limited their censorious attentions to his posthumously published work while taking an even more limited view of Kant by listing only his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’.

Religious rivalry would, of course, also get you listed on the Index, so that’s a complete goodbye and farewell to Luther and Calvin as well as Milton, and the Church didn’t limit its attentions to non-fiction works either, especially where their contents were deemed to be lascivious or obscene, which is why Catholics should tread very carefully around Defoe, Zola, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Sterne, George Sand, both Dumas’ and Graham Greene.

Although, having said all that, one book the Church never quite got around to adding to the Index – they procrastinated for years before dropping the matter – was ‘Mein Kampf’. Equally curiously they never did get around to Charles Darwin, although the work of his father, Erasmus, was indexed – however when John Zahm, a professor of chemistry and physics at the University of Notre Dame, tried to advance a Catholic interpretation of Darwinian evolution in Evolution and Dogma (1896), he was quickly forced to withdraw the book from publication in order to avoid being indexed.

The context to all this is a document produced by the Bishop on Catholic education called ‘Fit For Mission’ which attracted the attention of the committee as a consequence of its view of sex education:

In 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.”

“So-called” safe sex was based on the “deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against Aids”. He added: “Schools and colleges must not support charities or groups that promote or fund anti-life policies, such as Red Nose Day and Amnesty International, which now advocates abortion.”

He said yesterday: “As a Catholic bishop I am very concerned that the executive [of Amnesty International] has taken a decision on abortion”.

On HIV and condoms it is, of course, the Bishop who’s delusional here, not that the Catholic clergy are overly concerned with that or the impact that its attempts to prohibit the use of condoms are having on HIV infection rates across the developing world. After all, even without using condoms, buggering choirboys is still a relatively low risk activity – unless you get caught by the secular authorities before the Church can quietly arrange a transfer to a nice quiet monastery so why should they give a toss.

Even more delusional, however, is the continued practice of affording idiots like O’Donoghue any say at all in the provision of education where its funded by the public purse, a problem that has an all too easy solution if only the government had the balls to take it by withdrawing all state funding from so-called ‘faith’ schools.

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