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BBC schools guide retracts false statement on Catholic history

BBC Broadcasting House (Getty)

BBC Bitesize has removed a false statement about the Church, after an academic complained about it.

The popular revision website had told GCSE students that “the Church played a big part in medical stagnation” partly by “forbidding the dissection of corpses”.

Professor David Paton, who wrote a blogpost for the Catholic Herald noting that historians had dismissed this as a myth, also wrote to the BBC complaints department.

The BBC have agreed to remove the claim about dissection, and senior management at the Corporation will be informed of the correction.

Paton said he had focused on the point about dissection because it was “just factually incorrect”, and that he was “pleased” the BBC had taken action. “Hopefully, exam boards and GCSE textbooks which are still promoting this myth will take the lead of the BBC and stop claiming that the Church banned dissection.

The page, before (left) and after the BBC amended it

But he argued that the page is still inaccurate, since it claims that Catholicism was responsible for “stagnation” by promoting “prayer and superstition”, and makes no note of the Church’s contributions to medical progress. Paton said: “Although it is good to see some progress being made, the BBC Bitesize page still gives a very biased and misleading view of the Church’s role in the development of medicine. It is laughable when the only positive thing the BBC can find to say about the Church is that it encouraged people to go on the Crusades! Children learning GCSE History deserve better than this.”

Eleanor Parker, a lecturer in medieval history at Oxford University, said: “I’m very glad that the BBC has been responsive to feedback, and it’s important to correct misleading statements like this. It’s a shame, though, that the page still gives the impression that the medieval Church actively discouraged scientific progress by encouraging prayer as a replacement for medicine. Medieval Christians did not see science and religion as opposed to each other, and the Church encouraged and supported the study of science along with many other kinds of learning.”

Earlier this year, the BBC admitted that it had misrepresented the Church’s response to the Holocaust.