Practising Catholics should be given preferential treatment for all teaching jobs in Roman Catholic schools, according to a report endorsed by the Church's head of education.
Religious leaders say committed church-going teachers are essential if Catholic schools are to maintain their distinct ethos.
The Church already insists that all heads, deputy heads and heads of RE should be practising Catholics. But the report, produced by the diocese of Birmingham, with a foreword by Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham and chairman of the Bishops' Conference department of education, appears to go further by saying that "preferential consideration" should be given to a Catholic applying for any teaching post.
It says that Catholic children should always be given priority over those from other faiths. This is a long-held view within the church, although many religious leaders champion the tradition of admitting high numbers of pupils from other religions and none.
However, the Church, which controls more than 2,000 state primary and secondary schools, emphasised that control over admissions has not cut the number of poorer children. Statistics show the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is close to the national average.
But critics say staffing schools mainly with Catholic teachers could affect standards, particularly if a more able teacher from another faith is rejected.
A report in September by Professor John Howson, recruitment analyst, said Catholic schools and those in London already face a shortage of heads. Four out of 10 failed to appoint a head in the past year, compared to a fifth nationally. Professor Howson said: "Are governing bodies going to appoint the best person, or the best Catholic? And if you start giving preferential treatment to Catholic teachers are you going to be able to find enough to fill the posts?"
The report, Christ at the Centre, by Father Marcus Stock, diocesan schools'
commissioner for Birmingham, also says that Catholic symbols and icons should be "manifest externally and internally on the school premises".