Catholic commentators cry foul after Barack Obama slates ‘divisive’ sectarian schools

SHORTLY before the US President visited Northern Ireland for the G8 Conference, Catholics were basking in the warm glow of remarks made by Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Müller told an audience in Scotland that Catholic education provided a rare place where:

Intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together.

He was giving a Cardinal Winning Lecture to officially launch the St Andrews Foundation for Catholic teacher education at Glasgow University. During Mass at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow, he said that the Catholic school is vitally important … “a critical component of the Church”, adding that Catholic education provides young people with a wonderful opportunity to:

Grow up with Jesus.

President Obama in Belfast

President Obama in Belfast

Then along comes Obama and pisses on their parade. According to this report, he  “undermined” Müller by repeating the:

Oft disproved claim that Catholic education increases division.

Obama was addressing an audience of 2000 young people, including many Catholics, at Belfast’s Waterfront hall, and said:

If towns remain divided – if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden – that too encourages division and discourages cooperation.

Benjamein Wiker, writing for the National Catholic Register, sourly commented:

I can see why Mr Obama is not very excited about Catholic education. It’s too … Catholic.

And he asked:

Was the president suggesting that only Catholic schools should be closed? Was he saying, in effect, something like this? ‘Irish Catholics — get over it! The tip of your island is owned by English Protestants living on the island to your east, and that island, Britain, has an established church. Catholic schools are cells of rebellion, whereas Protestant schools are cells of patriotism’.

Or was Obama saying that both Catholic schools and Protestant schools should be eliminated, because any such ‘sectarian’ institution ‘encourages division and discourages cooperation’. So … close them both and herd all the kids into purely secular schools where they can ‘see themselves in one another’?

But if ‘sectarian’ institutions are the problem, then why not close the churches as well? ‘If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their church buildings and Protestants have theirs … ‘

Hmmm. Very curious.

Wiker added:

Whatever he meant to say, Catholics should certainly be prepared to defend Catholic education against any notion that we’d all be better if education were purely secularized.

First of all, universal education was invented by the Catholic Church. The Church also invented the university. Before that, education was the preserve of the very few. But during the period from 1200 to 1500, the universities educated hundreds of thousands of students from all walks of life and from all over Europe. That universalizing of education on the upper level was the blueprint and inspiration for the universalizing of education reaching down to the pre-collegiate levels.

Catholics have a right to defend what they’ve invented.

He then demonstrates that Catholic education does in fact encourage division and discourage cooperation.

Just suppose, for example, that a secular state wants to affirm abortion and ‘gay marriage’ as both legal and moral and uses its public secular schools to teach kids accordingly. Then Catholic schools could act as independent moral institutions.

They could, in fact, contradict the government and teach that abortion is murder and that ‘gay marriage’ is a morally distorted form of the only morally licit form of marriage, marriage between one man and one woman.Catholic schools would then be — in the eyes of the liberal secular state — cells of rebellion, ‘encouraging division and discouraging cooperation’.

He concluded:

If we had only secular schools, schools entirely under the thumb of the government, our children would learn only what that secular government wants them to learn.

The right-wing said Obama’s remark was a “gaffe”, and bemoaned the fact that it was not reported in the mainstream US media.

While gaffes are usually defined as extemporaneous, off-the-cuff errors or poorly judged statements, Obama’s remarks were planned in advance. The ‘gaffe’ in Obama’s Belfast remarks lies in the fact that Obama did not consider the sensitivities of his audience – or that he inadvertently revealed his own anti-religious prejudice.

To travel to a city troubled by conflict, and to then insult the members of at least one of the two communities, is not only a gaffe, but a serious diplomatic error.

Unless, of course, the speaker is President Barack Obama.