By Anne Hendershott – At Boston College’s commencement ceremony on Monday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley won’t be in attendance. The leader of the Boston archdiocese announced on May 10 that he would not deliver his traditional graduation benediction at the Catholic school because the college had invited Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny—a supporter of abortion rights in Ireland—to deliver the graduation address and receive an honorary degree.
The cardinal said the invitation has caused “confusion, disappointment and harm” by ignoring the U.S. bishops “who have asked that Catholic institutions not honor government officials or politicians who promote abortion with their laws and policies.”
In April, Mr. Kenny’s coalition government introduced legislation with the curious title “The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.” It will allow access to direct abortion for pregnant women if they claim to be so distraught about the pregnancy that they are in danger of committing suicide. Mr. Kenny has said that he “would like to see the legislation enacted before the Dail [parliament] rises for the summer.”
The prime minister’s actions have been condemned by the Catholic bishops of Ireland, who released a statement that warned: “International experience shows that allowing abortion on the grounds of mental health effectively opens the floodgates for abortion . . . it is the unborn child’s common humanity that makes his life equal in value to that of the mother.”
Boston College has responded to criticism of its invitation to Mr. Kenny—from Cardinal O’Malley, a pro-life student group at Boston College, and the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, among others—by saying that the decision was about common culture, not legislation. On May 10, college spokesman Jack Dunn told the Boston Globe that the invitation was extended “in light of our long-standing connection with Ireland and our desire to recognize and celebrate our heritage,” and was made “independent of the proposed bill that will be debated in the Irish parliament this summer.”
The abortion bill is just Mr. Kenny’s most recent clash with the Catholic Church. Last year, for instance, his government promoted a bill which would impose criminal penalties, including imprisonment, on priests who refuse to violate the seal of the confessional—normally sacrosanct—in cases of sexual abuse. On July 20, 2011, Mr. Kenny told the Irish parliament that the Vatican, in a bid to preserve its power, has “downplayed” the “rape and torture of children.” Later that year, he closed the Irish embassy to the Holy See, citing economic reasons.
Ireland’s prime minister isn’t the first abortion-rights proponent to be honored by the college. In 2010, the pro-choice Republican senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, delivered the commencement address at the Boston College School of Law. In 2007, the law school invited Edward Markey—a Massachusetts Congressman with a 100% abortion rights voting record in Congress—to speak at its commencement. In 2006, Mr. Markey joined 54 other Catholic Democrats in the House in signing a “Catholic Statement of Principles,” reserving the right to disagree with the Catholic Church on important issues like abortion. Mr. Markey is now running for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat.
There has been an uneasy relationship between the church and the wider Boston College campus community as well. In 2009, when college administrators placed 40 crucifixes on classroom walls throughout the Boston campus, a number of faculty members were furious.
In interviews with the Boston Herald and InsideHigherED.com, one professor described the display of crucifixes as offensive, while another found it “insensitive” and “indicative of a bias toward one way of thinking, elevating one set of ideals above others, honoring one group of people in preference to the rest.” Complaining about the crucifixes, Boston College Chemistry professor Amir Hoyveda wrote a letter to the editor of the Boston Herald, saying that he could “hardly imagine a more effective way to denigrate the faculty of an educational institution.”
Boston College pro-choice law students have formed BC Law Students for Reproductive Justice. On their website as of May 16, the Boston College pro-choice law students vow to “promote awareness of reproductive issues in order “to ensure that future lawyers will be prepared to successfully defend and expand reproductive rights.”
In a sense the professors and students are continuing the tradition of the longtime proponent of abortion rights, the late Rev. Robert Drinan, who was dean of Boston College Law School for 14 years (1956-70) before serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. While a congressman, Drinan could be counted on to vote for increased access to abortion, just as earlier, while a dean, he had helped counsel Catholic politicians on how to accept and promote abortion with a clear conscience. In 2011, the Boston College Law School held a symposium to honor Drinan.
Yet Cardinal O’Malley’s refusal to countenance the college’s support for Prime Minister Kenny may be a sign that things are about to change. In April, Pope Francis chose Cardinal O’Malley as one of eight cardinals to advise him on running the church and reforming the Vatican bureaucracy.
This honor brings with it a responsibility to ensure that Catholic colleges and universities are faithful to the Catholic mission. The cardinal’s Boston College boycott is a good start.
Ms. Hendershott is a sociology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, and the co-author of “Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops are Revitalizing the Catholic Church,” forthcoming from Encounter Books.
A version of this article appeared May 17, 2013, on page A13 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Cardinal Boycotts Boston College.
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