President Obama has been accused of anti-Catholic remarks during his recent visit to Northern Ireland.
Obama stated during his speech at the Waterfront Center in Belfast on Monday that segregated schooling was a large part of the problem.
“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,” Obama 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 and resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation,” he said.
There is almost total segregation of schools by religion in Northern Ireland, Soon after he made his comments a backlash began in both Ireland and the U.S.
“We all welcome the president's presence," said Auxiliary Bishop Donal McKeown of Down and Connor, according to the Catholic News Service, "but would encourage his speechwriters to support a less hackneyed analysis of our situation and prospects."
“While so many young people are very open to new friendships and opportunities, it needs to be stated that it is adults outside schools who promote mistrust for their own political and personal agendas.”
He said it was clear that the core problem in Northern Ireland was a political one..."It is significant that religion did not appear in the (Good Friday) agreement on what is primarily a political problem."
He said that "it is the Catholic schools in Northern Ireland that are now actually among the most racially and linguistically mixed. And, while so many young people are very open to new friendships and opportunities, it needs to be stated that it is adults outside schools who promote mistrust for their own political and personal agendas."
"A simplistic denominational vocabulary fails to do justice to where we are. "
Meanwhile in the U.S. there was also strong Catholic reaction.
“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,” said Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, a nonprofit advocacy group.
“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,” he said.
However the liberal group Catholics United defended the president.
“President Obama’s comments are directly on point and in no way disparage Catholic education. Obama has been a consistent supporter of Catholic schools and has held multiple events honoring them at the White House,” said James Salt, the group’s director.
“The real story here is how far the Catholic far right will go to disparage this president. Simply put, Obama’s detractors have taken an innocuous yet important comment out of context as a way to score cheap political points.”