The Rt Rev Michael Campbell, Bishop of Lancaster, asked if it was right for parishioners to continue paying for the upkeep of schools where the majority of pupils and teachers belong to other faiths and none.

He said faith schools are meant to help the church in its mission of evangelisation, and that mergers should be considered in parishes that are now “quiet and empty”.

His comments will be welcomed by traditionalists who want church schools to retain their Christian ethos, but will be seen as controversial elsewhere.

The hierarchies of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England have been accused of trying to make their schools more secular by relaxing admissions rules for the less devout.

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