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British cabinet minister forced to give assurance on faith

Faced with criticism that her alleged membership of Opus Dei and her Catholic faith could influcence her professional life, the UK's new education secretary Ruth Kelly has declared her primary allegiance to government policy rather than Church teaching.

"I am absolutely clear that as a member of this government I have collective responsibility for government policy, so as a member of the cabinet responsible for education, I also have responsibility for those policies developed in the health department and in the international development department and so forth, and I stand by those," she told the BBC.

"While there are issues of conscience, which of course I'll express my view on in the lobby in the usual way - because most of these are ques tions of free votes - as a member of the government I have responsibility for those policies and for implementing them in my own department."

Refusing to say whether or not she is a member, Ms Kelly said she had received "spiritual support" from Opus Dei.

Following speculation that the newest member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet had ruled out a move to the departments of health or international development because of her opposition to abortion and contraception, she said that her faith would not stand in the way of her taking up further government jobs.

The 36-year-old mother of four said her faith is a private matter.

"I, along with any other politician, am entitled to a degree of privacy in my private life," she said. "I do have a private spiritual life and I am completely open about that. People know that I am a Catholic and that I take it seriously.

In his syndicated olumn this week, papal biographer George Weigel describes Kelly as a "sign of contradiction for Britain's secular left".

He commented: "British conspiracy theorists are in a lather because Ruth Kelly has participated in activities organized by Opus Dei. What really earned Ruth Kelly the Buttiglione Treatment, though, is the fact that she's a myth-breaker: day by day, her public life refutes the canard that serious public Catholicism in the 21st century means incipient fascism. For who could plausibly accuse this bright and accomplished trade union member of being --- gasp! --- one of those dreaded conservatives? Conservatives and former Guardian writers don't get elected Labor MP for Bolton West."

Kelly insists link to Opus Dei will not hinder political career (The Guardian 24/1/05)
George Weigel: Ruth Kelly, myth-breaker (The Tidings 25/1/05)

Ruth Kelly appointed Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Department for Education and Skills 16/12/04)
What's in Ruth Kelly's in-tray? (BBC 17/12/04)

The Dei today (BBC 24/1/05)
British health secretary: Catholic views won't influence policy (Catholic World News 24/1/05)
Catholic views of UK leader irk newspaper (Big News Network 22/1/05)
Kelly facing pressure over Opus Dei links (The Scotsman 22/1/05)
Is Opus Dei at work in Blair's government? (The Guardian 22/1/05)

25 Jan 2005