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British Gov’t Will Not Change Its Cap on Catholic ‘Free’ Schools

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, greets Catholic school children outside Westminster Cathedral in London. British bishops say the government betrayed millions of Catholics by refusing to remove the cap on the number of Catholic students in new “free schools.” (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) – English bishops say the British government betrayed voters by refusing to change a rule they say keeps them from opening new Catholic “free schools.”

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool, chairman of the Department for Education of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the government had sided with a “vocal minority of campaigners who oppose the existence of church schools.”

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury said the policy indicated that secularist ideology was trumping the rights of Christian parents to educate their children in their faith.

The bishops had repeatedly asked the government to scrap its controversial 50 percent cap on the intake of Catholic pupils in any new “free schools” established outside of the control of local authorities, or councils.

The bishops argued that they could not canonically support a Catholic school that refused to accept a Catholic child simply because he or she was Catholic.

A free school is a nonprofit, independent, state-funded school that is not wholly controlled by a local authority. Although the schools are free to attend, the name is not related to school fees.

In her platform for the 2017 general election, British Prime Minister Theresa May promised to abolish the cap, introduced eight years ago by her predecessor, David Cameron.

Archbishop McMahon accused the government of breaking its promise and of dropping the pledge it had made “to our country’s six million Catholics.”

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