St. Patrick's Day: Dubya and Rev. Paisley

The Rev. Ian Paisley and a deputy of the Democratic Unionist Party have been invited to the White House St. Patrick’s Day party by President Bush.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrates the conversion of pagan Ireland to Catholicism by the national saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. This is the reason behind "the wearin’ o’ the Green."

To my knowledge, the date is of no particular significance to Protestants — who favor red and orange on March 17 instead of green — such as Rev. Paisley. Rather than celebrate St. Patrick, the Orange Order celebrates the victory of William of Orange (King Billy) at the Battle of the Boyne over Irish forces on July 12, 1690.

Dubya’s invitation, then, is a bit odd, to say the very least.

It is worse than odd if one considers the remarks made by Rev. Paisley over the course of his political career, and the fact that he continues to be a staunch opponent of the Good Friday peace accords.

As the New York Daily News reports,

[Paisley] staged his first protest in 1963, when he organized a demonstration against lowering the British flag to half-staff over Belfast City Hall in mourning after the death of Pope John XXIII.

In 1988, he interrupted Pope John Paul [II] as he addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Unfurling a red placard that read "Pope John Paul II Anti-Christ," Paisley roared, "Antichrist! I renounce you and all your cults and creeds."

Yes, that’s just the tone that the Republicans promised to bring to the White House. Is this part of Bush’s "faith-based" initiatives?

Predictably, Paisley has announced that his intention in coming to the White House is to turn Bush against the Good Friday peace accords.

New York tabloids have run headlines referring to Paisley as a "Catholic basher." This is hardly news, since Paisley does not hide his view of the Roman Catholic church. Follow the links to Paisley’s European Institute of Protestant Studies and have a look at his condemnation of Pope Pius XII.

The Irish Northern Aid Committee and the Catholic League (scroll down to October 26), among others, have catalogued Ian Paisley’s virulent anti-Catholicism.

As Stephen Howe writes in a review of Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland 1600-1998,

Paisley is, by any definition, an anti-Catholic bigot. Without ever directly sanctioning sectarian violence, he has contributed more than any other individual to the atmosphere in which it flourished.

President Bush has stated that he supports the peace process in Ireland.

So, traditionalists and conservatives, and persons concerned with peace in Ireland generally, circumstances present a question: what was Dubya thinking by inviting Paisley to the White House?

Given the flap over Dubya’s campaign speech at Bob Jones University, and the fact that Ian Paisley holds an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, one has to wonder what Dubya’s views of his Catholic constituents really are.

That being said, do not take me the wrong way with respect to Bob Jones University. I know a few Baptist graduates of Bob Jones University, they know I’m a Catholic, and we get along fine.

Also, Bush does not approach Clinton on my personal moron index, since Clinton once remarked — in what must have been a moment of unscripted speech — that the peace brokers in northern Ireland were like "a couple of drunks walking out of the bar."

In closing, then, a few words of conciliation. At the very least, Ian Paisley understands Bill Clinton. The Daily News quotes Paisley as saying, in response to Clinton’s offer to visit Belfast, "If he did, we’d have to lock up all the women."

But if Dubya wanted to invite Ian Paisley to the White House, St. Patrick’s Day was the wrong day to do it. If an invitation simply had to be sent, why not wait until July 12 and invite him while the Orange Order marches to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne? Irish Catholics would very likely have been offended nonetheless, but the offense would not have been as great.

Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

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