Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese, said today he would not attend Boston College’s commencement because the scheduled speaker, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, supports controversial abortion-rights legislation in his country.
In a statement released this afternoon, O’Malley said the Catholic Bishops of the United States have urged Catholic institutions not to honor government officials whose views on the issue are inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic church.
The Irish legislation would permit abortions if there is a real and substantial threat to the mother’s life, including from suicide.
“Since the university has not withdrawn the invitation and because the Taoiseach [prime minister] has not seen fit to decline, I shall not attend the graduation,’’ O’Malley said in a statement. “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.’’
He added, “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.’’
By tradition, the Boston archbishop delivers the final benediction at BC’s commencement each spring. The college is scheduled to award Kenny an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the ceremony, which will be held May 20 at Alumni Stadium.
In his statement, O’Malley said the church considers abortion “a crime against humanity’’ and he noted that Kenny has been “aggressively promoting abortion legislation’’ despite opposition from church leaders in Ireland.
O’Malley said he is sure the invitation to the prime minister “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.”
Boston College responded by saying they will miss O’Malley at the ceremony, but the college leadership will not rescind the invitation to Kenny.
“We respect Cardinal O’Malley and regret that he will not be in attendance,” BC spokesman Jack Dunn said in a statement. “However, we look forward to our commencement and to Prime Minister Kenny’s remarks.’’
Dunn said BC invited the leader of Ireland to their commencement “in light of the historically close relationship Boston College has enjoyed with Ireland.’’
The BC spokesman also said that the school’s views on abortion rights remain firm. “As a Catholic institution, Boston College supports the Church’s commitment to the life of the unborn,’’ he said.
Dunn referred to a statement on the legislation the prime minister made earlier this month. In that statement, Kenny said the legislation retains the “general ban’’ on abortion in Ireland, but also clarifies when doctors can “intervene where a woman’s life is at risk.’’
O’Malley’s decision aligns him with the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, which condemned the BC invitation Tuesday.
“We’re delighted,” C. J. Doyle, executive director of the group, said today. “We commend the cardinal for his forthright and unambiguous statement.”
Irish bishops have spoken out against the legislation, calling it “a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law.”
“It is a tragic moment for Irish society when we regard the deliberate destruction of a completely innocent person as an acceptable response to the threat of the preventable death of another person,” they said in a statement earlier this month.
The Irish government’s efforts in support of the legislation have gained momentum since the October 2012 death of an Indian woman in Galway after she was denied an emergency abortion while she was having a miscarriage. In April, an Irish jury found that poor medical care led to the death.
A 1992 Irish Supreme Court ruling declared that abortions deemed necessary to save a woman’s life must be legal, but successive governments have refused to pass any law to support the ruling, fearful of voter backlash in a nation where Catholicism remains the dominant faith.
O’Malley’s name was mentioned as a possible candidate during the recent papal conclave that elected Pope Francis.