Monday, October 14, 2013

President Obama Calls for an end to Catholic education in Ireland: Why American Catholics should care

In a speech he gave last June, President Obama called for an end to Catholic education in Northern Ireland.  "If towns remain divided," President Obama said, " 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,
Who needs Catholic schools?
that encourages division. It discourages cooperation."

The President's comment on Catholic education offended Catholics in the United Kingdom, but his remarks attracted little attention in the United States. And so I ask this question: Should Catholics care what President Obama thinks about Catholic education?

 I think we should for two reasons. First, President Obama's remarks to an audience in Northern Ireland betrays how little he knows about the major currents of world history.  The British exploited the Irish for hundreds of years and treated the Catholic religion with contempt. The fidelity of the Irish to the Catholic faith through a history of  violence and abuse is one of the great epics of Catholic history. For President Obama to recommend, almost offhandedly, the closure of Irish Catholic schools reveals how tone-deaf he is to any heritage that does not fit his postmodern view of history.

Second, Catholics should never forget the violence unleashed against Catholics in the twentieth century by totalitarian regimes, violence that was always preceded by governmental efforts to close Catholic schools and Catholic charitable institutions. As Robert Royal wrote of the Nazi persecutions, attacks on Catholic clergy in the 1930s were "clearly intended to help get young people out of Church schools and youth organizations and into the secular schools and Hitlerjugend that were inculcating Nazi ideology" (Royal, 2000, p.153).

Likewise, during the Communist takeover of Poland in the 1940s, the government began its repression by the closure of Catholic schools. "Church property and publications were slowly confiscated; religious schools were laicized; Catholic hospitals, orphanages, and other charitable institutions were transferred to the state," Royal wrote. Although the Polish primate objected, "it was obvious that the government intended to restrict Catholic activity to churches and slowly wean young people and he whole society away from the faith" (Royal, 2000, p. 218).

You might say it is unfair to compare 21st century American society with Communist Poland or Nazi Germany. But our nation's highest court has approved a decision by a public law school to refuse to recognize a Christian student group because it insisted that its members abide by traditional Christian doctrine on sexuality and marriage. And we have seen  a Catholic charitable institutions forced out of placing orphan children for adoption because they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Who would deny that President Obama would like to see the Catholic Church totally neutralized in the public policy arena?

Throughout American history, American presidents have expressed their respect for Catholics and their faith, even during periods of intense anti-Catholic prejudice. As army commander during the American Revolution, George Washington reproached soldiers who wished to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, an anti--Catholic celebration that generally included burning the Pope in effigy. To insult Catholics in such a way, Washington wrote, "is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused . . ."

Likewise, President Thomas Jefferson, a deist, responded respectfully to the Ursuline Sisters of New Orleans when they sent an inquiry about the status of their property after the Louisiana Purchase had placed them under the jurisdiction of the United States government. In this letter, President Jefferson made a solemn promise:  "The principles of the Constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that [your property] will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it's own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority."

And Abraham Lincoln likewise expressed his respect for Catholicism in a letter he wrote in 1855, six years before being elected president. In this letter, Lincoln expressed his utter contempt for the Know-Nothing Party, a political organization dedicated to oppressing Catholics.

As a nation, Lincoln observed, "we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal , except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.'"  Lincoln vowed he would emigrate to Russia before he would consent to be governed by the Know-Nothings.

Today, however, America is governed by a postmodern president who has a postmodern disdain for religion, including the Catholic faith. The fact that he felt free to offend Catholics in Northern Ireland by recommending the closure of Catholic schools speaks volumes about the man who presides over our country.


Dennis Byrne. After 90 years, Catholic Charities out of foster care. Happy Now? November 14, 2011. Accessble at:

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez130 S. Ct. 2971 (2010).

DeBlanco, Andrew (ed.). The Portable Abraham Lincoln. New York: Viking, 1992.

Ellis, John Tracey. Documents of American Catholic History. Milwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing Company, 1956.

Illinois Catholic Charities Drop Lawsuit Against State Over Gay Adoption, Foster Care. Huffington Post, November 15, 2011. Accessible at:

Robert Royal. The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. New York: Crossroad Books, 2000.

Kathy Schiffer. Obama calls for an end to Catholic education in Northern Ireland. June 17, 2013. Patheos,com. [Kathy Schiffer's blog]. Accessible at:

Paul Scicchitano. June 19, 2013. Obama Offends Catholics in UK: Says Religious Schools Divisive.  Accessible at:

Ben Wolfgang. Obama's remarks about Catholic schools sparks new fight with the Church. Washington Times, June 20, 2013. Accessible at:

No comments:

Post a Comment