The bishops of England and Wales are calling on the government to keep its promise

Bishops in England and Wales have launched a petition urging the Education Secretary to lift the so-called “faith cap” that prevents the Church from opening new religious schools.

In their 2017 election manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to abolish the cap, which prevents new faith schools from selecting more than half of their intake from their own religion.

The cap effectively prevents the Catholic Church from opening new schools because it is against canon law to turn away students based on their Catholic faith.

However, since the Conservatives lost their majority there have been persistent rumours that Education Secretary Justine Greening may quietly drop the proposal. A consultation on the proposal, which closed in December last year, has still not been published.

The petition by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales says: “The Government is making a critical decision on whether to overturn the admissions cap which prevents some schools from allowing all Catholic pupils to attend. By her own admission, the Secretary of State has said the rule has been ineffective and adversely affects Catholic families.

“By forcing Catholic schools to turn away Catholic school children on the basis of their faith, the very principle of a Catholic parent’s right to choose a Catholic education is under threat.”

Fr George Bowen, secretary of the bishops’ conference education department, told the TES that the cap was an “effective ban on any new Catholic schools as our bishops ruled that opening a Catholic school that turned away Catholics for being Catholic was against Canon law”.

“The bishops are now calling on the Catholic community to make its collective voice heard and tell the secretary of state to uphold her government’s manifesto commitment to the Catholic community, Britain’s largest religious minority.”

The Department for Education said: “We will be publishing the consultation in due course.”