President Barack Obama suggested that religiously-affiliated and denominational schools are at the root of The Troubles, the ethnic, religious and nationalist conflict that seems to perpetually afflict Northern Ireland.
Obama made the chastising remarks in front of about 2,000 mostly young people at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on Monday, the Scottish Catholic Observer reported.
“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,” Obama lectured.
Catholic leaders disagree (as do Protestant leaders, almost certainly).
Archbishop Gerhard Müller had defended Catholic education in a Friday Mass in Glasgow, arguing that Catholic schools are places where “intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together.”
The archbishop also called Catholic education “a critical component of the Church.”
Müller is the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, a unit of the Roman Catholic Church headquartered in Vatican City.
In the United States, there are over 33,000 private schools, according to the Council for American Private Education. They enroll roughly 5.5 million students between pre-kindergarten and 12th grade.
Over 7,000 of the private schools in the United States are Catholic, notes the National Center for Education Statistics. Nearly 16,000 schools fall in a catch-all “other religious” category. Of these “other” schools, approximately 4,600 are labeled as “conservative Christian.”
The president has been in Northern Ireland to take part in a two-day G8 Summit at the five-star Lough Erne resort.
Monday’s statement is not the first time Obama has suggested that religion is a dangerous crutch.
In 2008, when he was running for president, Obama criticized unsophisticated Americans in “small towns in Pennsylvania” and the Midwest for their attachment to Christian religion and firearms.
“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” Obama famously declared, according to The Huffington Post.