Comment & Analysis

Why is Mary McAleese attacking Catholic education?

Former President Mary McAleese chose to attack Catholic education recently in a most bizarre way, which is a puzzle to many people.

Former President Mary McAleese chose to attack Catholic education recently in a most bizarre way, which is a puzzle to many people. 

Mrs McAleese claimed that young gay men are taking their lives in disproportionate numbers because “they are the victims of homophobic bullying”. She then blamed Catholic schools for instilling these “homophobic” attitudes which result in mental cruelty and suicide. 

The vast majority of children in Ireland went to Catholic schools, she said, where “they will have heard words like ‘disorder’, they may have heard the word ‘evil’ used in relation to homosexual practice. And when they make the discovery…they are gay when they are 14, 15 and 16, an internal conflict of absolutely appalling proporitions opens up.” They may have heard their own family members use “dreadful language in relation to homosexuality and now they are driven into a space that is dark and bleak”. The Catholic Church “is going to become increasingly isolated in its attitude to homosexuality”.

There has been a vivid discussion on Facebook about this claim that Catholic education teaches children words like ‘evil’ in relation to homosexual practice. Nobody who joined the discussion agreed with Mrs McAleese, and nobody remembers being taught anything hateful about homosexuality in the course of their Catholic education. “I never remember being taught anything about homosexuality at Catholic boarding schools – warnings about sex before marriage, yes.” “Never heard a teacher mention homosexuality. There would be some slagging between kids about being ‘gay’.” “Not a word about the issue in my Catholic school.” “Plenty of bullying of the generic kind but no overt system of bullying for homosexuality,” wrote Ray McIntyre. 

Declan McSweeney said that he never heard the word homosexual in religious class in his Christian Brothers school, but he did hear it in English lessons, when they came to discuss the poetry of Oscar Wilde. 

The teacher was notably compassionate about the subject. As elsewhere, there were more warnings about teenage pregnancy. 

One contributor, Jimmy O’Brien directed Mrs McAleese, who is studying Canon Law in Rome, to the catechism which states that homosexual people should be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity”.

Many of the Facebook contributors questioned the claim that male suicide  – which is an appalling tragedy – was higher among gay men. Is there any evidence for this claim Mrs McAleese made it as an affirmation, without offering any evidence.

I really think she should explain herself more. She is certainly entitled to say that she believes the Catholic Church’s view of homosexuality is outdated – though I think she needs to address the Gospel of St Paul rather than just the Catholic Church. But why should she use her views on this issue to attack Catholic education Most enigmatic.

The point of child benefit
The historic point of ‘child benefit’, as first conceived by the Fabian Society, was that it should be a payment to the mother, because mothers need to be supported, financially as well as symbolically, and whatever cutbacks are need to be made, surely child benefit should be sacrosanct.

A ‘Spanish Diana’
We know that Spain is in dire straits and every day sees huge demonstrations against the government’s austerity measures. But one of the functions of monarchy is to cheer people up in hard times – in London, George VI and Elizabeth did their bit during the Blitz. And so, in Spain,  Crown Princess Letizia is being advanced ever more into the public realm to cheer up the people.
Letizia is married to Felipe, heir to King Juan Carlos, and they have two adorable little girls, Leonor and Sofia. Dona Letizia is very pretty, and was formerly a television presenter. She experienced great loss when her sister Erika died by suicide in 2007.
The Spanish royals have had their problems and Letizia is expected to restore public confidence, as Diana did in Britain (and as Kate must do). Juan Carlos has spent rather more time with an attractive German blonde than with his sensible wife, Sofia - who would have advised him not to go off big game-hunting in Africa at a time of austerity. There’s also financial trouble with a Basque son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin. So, Letizia, with her charisma, her glamour, is to re-brand the Spanish monarchy with an ever more public life, doing ever more official duties, and being targeted, no doubt, by ever more paparazzi. Uneasy lies the head that will inherit the crown.