Cardinal skips BC commencement over honor to Irish prime minister

BOSTON -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley will not attend commencement at Boston College this year because the college plans to honor the prime minister of Ireland who has supported a bill to introduce legalized abortion in that country.

In a statement on May 10, Cardinal O'Malley said he cannot support Boston College when it confers an honorary degree on Prime Minister Enda Kenny at commencement ceremonies on May 20 -- an event traditionally attended by the Archbishop of Boston.

Cardinal O'Malley, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, referenced a 2004 declaration by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in his statement.

"Because the Gospel of Life is the centerpiece of the Church's social doctrine and because we consider abortion a crime against humanity, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have asked that Catholic institutions not honor government officials or politicians who promote abortion with their laws and policies," Cardinal O'Malley said.

The cardinal said he recently became aware of the invitation of Prime Minister Kenny to speak and receive honors at the commencement.

"I am sure that the invitation was made in good faith, long before it came to the attention of the leadership of Boston College that Mr. Kenny is aggressively promoting abortion legislation," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley said the Irish bishops have affirmed Church teaching in response to the prime minister's campaign.

"If what is being proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed. It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances," said a 2012 statement signed by Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam.

The cardinal said that since the university has not rescinded the invitation and the prime minister has not declined, he will not attend; but he promised to keep students graduating that day in his thoughts and prayers.

"It is my ardent hope that Boston College will work to redress the confusion, disappointment and harm caused by not adhering to the bishops' directives. Although I shall not be present to impart the final benediction, I assure the graduates that they are in my prayers on this important day in their lives, and I pray that their studies will prepare them to be heralds of the Church's social gospel and 'men and women for others,' especially for the most vulnerable in our midst," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said in a statement that the university invited the prime minister in recognition of its close relationship with Ireland.

"Prime Minister Kenny has encouraged individuals to read the proposed bill and his position statement, which reaffirms the constitutional prohibition on abortion in Ireland and attempts to clarify and regulate Ireland's response to the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights," Dunn said.

He said as a Catholic institution the university supports the Church in its commitment to protecting the lives of the unborn.

"We respect Cardinal O'Malley and regret that he will not be in attendance. However, in light of the prime minister's assurances, we are proceeding with our commencement plans," Dunn said.

Despite a 2011 campaign promise by Prime Minister Kenny not to introduce abortion to Ireland, the Irish government proposed legislation in 2012 that would decriminalize abortion in cases where the mother faced a threat to her life, including the possibility of suicide.

In 2013 Kenny defended the bill, the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013, in a speech after the Irish government published the bill.

"We are a compassionate people. This is about women, it is about saving lives -- the life of the mother and the life of the unborn," he said.

He said the bill came in response to obligations arising from a judgment in 2010 by the European Court of Human Rights that the country had to define when women can receive abortions, stemming from a 1992 ruling by the Irish supreme court.

"This Bill restates the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland," he said.

A 1983 constitutional referendum asserted the right to life for the unborn with the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland.

President of Massachusetts Citizens for Life Anne Fox said as a non-denominational pro-life group, MCFL ran a grass-roots effort in Boston in 1982 that advocated for the amendment to protect the unborn in Ireland.

"While the rest of the world seemed to be falling apart, Ireland was pro-life," Fox said.

On behalf of MCFL, she commended the stand taken by Cardinal O'Malley.

"As outsiders looking in, we would say that the bishops in the United States have laid down expectations for Catholic institutions. He is recognizing that, and his actions should help to encourage this Catholic institution to do what is expected," she said.

"I can understand that once you invite someone it's difficult to disinvite them, but principles should certainly trump a previously bought plane ticket," Fox said.