RUTH Kelly, the Education Secretary, has finally confirmed she receives "spiritual guidance" from Opus Dei, making her the first Cabinet member in history with open links with the ultraconservative Roman Catholic group.
She made the confirmation after being confronted live on BBC1’s Breakfast With Frost programme about The Scotsman’s disclosure last week that she is a full Opus Dei member with "supernumerary" status. But she pledged her strict Catholic faith would not affect her judgment as a minister.
She said: "I do have a private spiritual life, and I’m completely open about that.
"People know that I’m a Catholic and that I take it seriously. And I come to this job as a Catholic as well as a parent and with all sorts of other influences."
But, her political enemies - on both Labour and Tory benches - argue that her faith may stop her advancing the government’s secular agenda on such matters as stem cell research.
She flatly denied that she told Tony Blair she cannot work in the International Development Department because it distributes condoms to combat AIDS in Africa.
"It just shows you how rumours grow and things develop a life of their own," she said.
Before her promotion last month, she was allowed to abstain - on grounds of conscience - from the Mental Capacity Bill, which eased the rules on euthanasia. The bill was bitterly opposed by the Catholic Church.
Mrs Kelly, 36, has fallen victim to a whispering campaign from feminist Labour MPs who consider her on the wrong side of every major question.