BOSTON — Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley will not attend Boston College's commencement this year because the college planned to honor the prime minister of Ireland, who has supported a bill to introduce legalized abortion in that country.
In a statement May 10, Cardinal O'Malley said he cannot support the Jesuit-run university when it confers an honorary degree on Prime Minister Enda Kenny at commencement ceremonies May 20 — an event traditionally attended by Boston's archbishop.
Cardinal O'Malley, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, referenced a 2004 declaration by the USCCB 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 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.
Since the university has not rescinded the invitation and the prime minister has not declined, the cardinal said he will not attend but promised to keep students graduating that day in his thoughts and prayers.
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said in a statement the university invited the prime minister in recognition of its close relationship with Ireland.
He also said that 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."
As a Catholic institution, Boston College supports the church's commitment to protecting the lives of the unborn, he added.
"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 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 practice, abortion has been illegal in Ireland under 1861 legislation. In a 1983 referendum, Irish voters amended the constitution to prohibit the passage of a law that would allow abortion. However, a 1992 Supreme Court judgment -- known as the X case -- found that there is a constitutional right to abortion where there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the risk of suicide, up to birth.
Successive governments have not acted on the issue. However, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that Ireland must clarify when women can access abortion under the 1992 ruling.
In 2013, in a speech after the Irish government published the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, Kenny defended it, noting the judgment by the European court.
"This bill restates the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland," he said.
"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.
In a statement issued last December, Ireland's four top Catholic churchmen said: "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."
It was 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.
Cardinal O'Malley in his statement said he hoped Boston College "will work to redress the confusion, disappointment and harm caused by not adhering to the (U.S.) 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," the cardinal said.