(CNSNews.com) – The Catholic bishop of Harrisburg, Pa., has apologized for offending anyone with his recent comments that Hitler and Mussolini “would love” the public school system in Pennsylvania, because it is similar to what they sought to create in their totalitarian states.
But in a statement issued by the diocese of Harrisburg, Bishop Joseph McFadden did not retract comments he made during an interview on Jan. 24 with WHTM-TV, the ABC affiliate in Harrisburg.
The bishop made a comparison between the interests of the public school system and totalitarianism, while discussing what he sees as a lack of school choice in Pennsylvania.
“In the totalitarian government, they would love our system,” McFadden said. “This is what Hitler and Mussolini and all them tried to establish -- a monolith; so all the children would be educated in one set of beliefs and one way of doing things.”
McFadden’s comments drew immediate criticism from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union – which complained that the bishop had raised the specter of the Holocaust.
"We respect the Bishop and his position in the Church. We appreciate his commitment the education of children and the viability of Catholic schools. However, he should not be making his point at the expense of the memory of six million Jews and millions of others who perished in the Holocaust," Barry Morrison, Eastern Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
"The Holocaust was a unique experience. It does not lend itself to inappropriate analogies. We have an obligation to protect the memory of those who suffered because of it from those who would distort it and undermine and trivialize the history of the Holocaust, however inadvertently. Our role should be to honor those who fought to defeat the murderous Nazis, and not to inappropriately draw reckless comparisons."
Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, called McFadden’s comments, “completely inappropriate.”
In a statement on the Diocese of Harrisburg Web site, the bishop issued an apology to anyone who was offended by his remarks, but went on to explain and justify his references to Hitler and Mussolini:
“To those who may have been offended by my remarks, I apologize to them assuring them that I purposely did not mention the holocaust,” the bishop said.
“The reference to dictators and totalitarian governments of the 20th century which I made in an interview on the topic of school choice was to make a dramatic illustration of how these unchecked monolithic governments of the past used schools to curtail the primary responsibility of the parent in the education of their children,” he said.
“Today many parents in our state experience the same lack of freedom in choosing an education that bests suits their child as those parents oppressed by dictators of the past. I intentionally did not make reference to the holocaust in my remarks,” McFadden added.
McFadden said the Catholic Church “recognizes the holocaust as a terrible atrocity and evil emanated against humanity and especially those who were the victims of these crimes,” adding that “I would never minimize or trivialize the devastating suffering that took place.”
But the bishop did not actually refer to the Holocaust in the broadcast -- a fact he pointed out in his letter.
“I used the example of the dictators merely to explain how an absolute monopoly in education, where parents do not have a right or ability to choose the education that best suits their children due to economic circumstances or otherwise, runs counter to a free and open society,” he said.
“Our support of a school voucher program has the goal of giving parents something that dictators never would, a choice in which school their children attend by being able to control the portion of the tax dollars that is designated for the education of each child.
Back in December, the Pennsylvania Legislature rejected a proposal backed by by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett that would have created a school voucher program.
If enacted, students in the worst public schools of Pennsylvania would have been given vouchers so their parents could afford to send them to schools of better quality and performance. The measure died.
Jonathan Butcher, education director at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, which champions school choice, told CNSNews.com that choice is essential if students are not to be trapped in schools.
“The goal here is to provide the best quality set of educational options that we can, and that’s going to differ from student to student," Butcher said. "A student who goes to a failing school should not just have to rely on their assigned public school.”