The Catholic Church has denied claims that it attempted to influence the policies of new education secretary Damian Hinds by paying for his interns.
Humanists have raised concerns about the Church giving support to MPs, including Mr Hinds.
They note Mr Hinds’ backing for the removal of the 50 per cent cap on religious selection at faith schools. The dropping of this cap is supported by the Catholic Education Service and would enable it to open new schools: canonical law prevents new schools from opening while the cap is in place.
But the Church has denied that its support for the MPs' interns has anything to do with political lobbying.
The register of MPs interests shows a Mr Hinds received a donation from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales of "an educational allowance of £5,116.25 and accommodation provided for an intern in my parliamentary office for 10 months".
Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said: “One would think that the level of religious influence over the education system is bad enough, without the pernicious and deeply inappropriate political lobbying conducted by the Catholic Church.”
But a Catholic Education Service spokesperson said that the internship scheme, run by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, is intended to help recent Catholic graduates find roles in public life and not to influence policy. It offers a range of placements, with charities as well as with Catholic MPs.
The spokesperson said the humanist claims were “categorically untrue”. “We don’t give money to MPs or their offices at all," he said. "The insinuation that money is going directly from the Bishops’ Conference to MPs is categorically false.”
Instead, he said, the funds are used to ensure that the interns are paid a living wage.
A Department for Education spokesperson: “Any financial interests of members are declared on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and are a matter of public record. This donation and the details of what it was used for was published in 2014, in line with this process.”