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Ireland’s Highest Cross Attacked in Anti-Catholic Protest

Valerie O'Sullivan

Greg Daly - published on 12/05/14

Locals work together to restore iconic symbol on mountain.

The vandalism of a cross at the top of Ireland’s highest mountain has been revealed to have been an anti-Catholic attack.

A video showing an angle grinder being used to cut down Carrauntoohil’s five-meter high steel cross on or around November 22 was sent to Irish online news site The Journal and has been passed on to Irish police investigating the vandalism. The Journal reports that the video “contains a number of anti-Catholic Church sentiments, indicating that the person or persons involved took this action as a form of protest. The messages focus on the number of Irish primary schools which are run by the Catholic Church.”

Catholic Comment coordinator Petra Conroy accepts that the vandal or vandals clearly had a point to make about schooling in Ireland, where the vast majority of primary schools, though run by the state, are owned by Catholic dioceses and are under the patronage of Ireland’s bishops. Nonetheless, she told Aleteia, “That’s not the way to make a point. If you have a point to make which is valid, you don’t make it by cutting down an iconic symbol or well-known landmark. It’s sad that someone who clearly feels passionately about this didn’t find a better way to express their passion.”

As it happens, she says, there are no shortage of people in the Irish Church, including Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Father Michael Drumm of the Catholic Schools Partnership, who would say Ireland, like any country, should have a range of schools to reflect parental choice, and that work is needed in that direction, although Catholics should be proud of what their schools have to offer.

Such schools, Conroy says, are very inclusive, providing education for children from backgrounds as diverse as Ireland’s travelling community and various immigrant communities, regardless of whether they are Catholic or not. “Even those from Islamic backgrounds,” she says, “if they can’t access schools directed specifically to them, are often quite attracted to the kind of education, the kind of values, the Catholic schools offer.”

The discovery that the monument had been cut down led to national debate, with Atheist Ireland head Michael Nugent saying that while the attack on the cross was a criminal act that should be prosecuted, the cross itself had been erected in a bygone age when Ireland was a predominantly Catholic country, and was not appropriate in the more pluralist landscape of modern Ireland. “If there is to be something to replace it,” he said, “it would be more appropriate if it were something inclusive that everybody in the community could identify with.”

Cora Sherlock, deputy chairperson of Ireland’s Pro Life Campaign, observed that “I can’t imagine most atheists listening in were too thrilled with the position taken by the most well-known spokesperson for atheism in the country.”

“Perhaps this is one crusade that Michael should have avoided,” Sherlock added. “The way to respond to vandalism is to neutralize it by replacing what was lost. Anything else very quickly looks like a campaign built on its coat-tails, or worse, an obvious own goal.”

Sherlock’s instincts seem to have been correct. Atheist Ian O’Doherty pointed out in the Irish Independent that Nugent’s comments were “merely the latest in a long line of ridiculous and some might say, vexatious, complaints by atheists here and abroad who seem to delight in taking offence.”

O’Doherty points to the unrepresentative nature of Nugent’s organization, which by its own admission had in 2011 just 312 just paid-up members, a year when the national census saw 84% of the population identify as Catholic, and a further 6.25% identify as Christians of other denominations.

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