President Obama made some remarks in Northern Ireland earlier in the week, when he gave a speech at the Waterfront Center in Belfast, that have Catholics in both Northern Ireland and the United States up in arms.
The controversial remarks include:
Issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity — symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others — these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it. If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear and resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.
The remarks reference the fact that in Northern Ireland, there is almost 100 percent segregation by religion in the schools.
Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, said in response, “Catholic education is not the source of
‘division’ in Northern Ireland, nor are [Catholic schools] a source of
division anywhere in the world. Catholic schools educate children
without regard for race, class, sex, origin or even religious faith. The work of Catholic education is a response to the Gospel call to serve, not divide. In a free society, Catholics have every right to operate schools.”
The Reagan Coalition called the President’s remarks a “call to end Catholic education.”
However, the president of the Catholic League defended the President’s remarks, writing:
There are plenty of reasons to be
critical of President Obama’s policies as they relate to the Catholic
Church, and I have not been shy in stating them. But the reaction on the
part of conservatives, many of whom are Catholic, over his speech in
Ireland, is simply insane. Never did Obama say he wants “an end to
Catholic education.” Indeed, he never said anything critical about the
nature of Catholic schools. It makes me wonder: Have any of his critics
bothered to actually read his speech?
Obama’s speech, given in Northern
Ireland, properly spoke of the divisions between Catholics and
Protestants. He lauded the Good Friday Agreement, noting that “There are
still wounds that haven’t healed, and communities where tensions and
mistrust hangs in the air.” He said that “segregated schools and
housing” add to the problem. Then he 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, if fear or resentment
are allowed to harden, that encourages division.”
Obama was not condemning Catholic
schools — he was condemning segregation. He was calling attention to the
fact that where social divisions exist, the prospects for social harmony
are dimmed. How can anyone reasonable disagree with this observation?
Moreover, it should hardly be surprising that a black president would be
sensitive to segregation, whether based on race or religion.
What do you think? Were the President’s remarks taken out of context or misinterpreted?