Boston speech embroils Irish leader, Catholics in abortion row

(Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny gives a gift of an etched bowl filled with traditional shamrocks to U.S. President Barack Obama during a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House in Washington, March 19, 2013.

U.S. Cardinal Sean O'Malley's announcement that he will not attend graduation ceremonies at a Jesuit university because its commencement speaker, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, supports a loosening of his country's strict abortion laws, is seen by some as a snub in Ireland.

O'Malley was to give the benediction at the commencement exercises to be held at Boston College (BC) on May 20.

In his statement, O'Malley said he was following a directive made by U.S. bishops.

"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 who promote abortion with their laws and policies," said O'Malley.

Irish Central, an online newspaper serving the Irish Diaspora, quoted an unnamed Irish government official saying it was an insult.

Columnist Niall O'Dowd wrote in Irish Central, "To boycott the Irish Prime Minister is to insult Irish people everywhere which is what O'Malley has just done."

O'Malley said he believes the school acted in good faith since the invitation to Kenny was made before it learned that he was "aggressively promoting abortion legislation."

Even so, he said he hoped the university would correct "the confusion, disappointment and harm" caused by not adhering to the directives of the bishops.

"Since the university has not withdrawn the invitation and because the Taioseach (prime minister) has not seen fit to decline, I shall not attend the graduation."

Last week, the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts had also criticized BC for its invitation to Kenny, The Boston Globe newspaper reported.

"We are delighted," said C.J. Doyle, executive director of the organization."We commend the cardinal for its forthright and unambiguous statement."

BC spokesman Jack Dunn reiterated a statement he made earlier in the week in which he defended the university's invitation to Kenny. He noted that Kenny was asked to speak because of BC's ties to Ireland.

"Boston College invited Prime Minister Kenny a year ago to speak at our commencement in light of our longstanding connection with Ireland and our desire to recognize and celebrate our heritage.

"Our invitation is independent of the proposed bill that will be debated in the Irish Parliament this summer," Dunn said in a statement.

O'Malley's announcement that he will boycott the event at BC is the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle between the Catholic Church and Kenny. The two have not only been fighting over abortion, but also about the Church's sex abuse scandals.

Kenny has criticized the Church over its handling of the immoral behavior within its ranks.

Ecumenical News reported in early April that Kenny, who was elected on a pro-life platform, was seeking to clarify the strict abortion laws in Ireland under pressure from the European Union and pro-choice groups.

The latter are irate over the death of a woman who died after she was refused an abortion last October. The pro-choice lobby believes an abortion would have saved her life.

Those opposed to abortion say the death of Indian national Savita Halappanevar was due to mistakes made by medical personnel, not from refusal to abort her unborn child.

Kenny was quoted in the UK's Guardian newspaper last week saying the bill he is supporting does not change existing Irish law. He said it merely "provides clarity" in cases where the mother's life is at stake.

"The law on abortion in Ireland is not being changed," said Kenny. "Our country will continue to be one of the safest places on earth for childbirth."

O'Malley directly referenced the opposition of the Catholic leadership in Ireland to Kenny's moves in his BC statement and said that the Irish prime minister's proposed bill does indeed change Irish law.

He said that Irish bishops have responded to Kenny's support for pro-abortion legislation by affirming the Catholic Church's teaching.

O'Malley noted that they had said that the Church teaches that "the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong."

Furthermore, he said the Irish bishops "have expressed serious concern that the proposed legislation 'represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law."

One of the more controversial aspects of the proposed law is that it allows for an abortion in cases where the mother is threatening suicide.

Still, despite a Supreme Court of Ireland ruling on this, pro-choice supporters say the court's decision has been ignored.

The Irish Independent newspaper reported that Kenny has ruled out allowing abortion for women who have been raped or where the unborn child has a fatal foetal abnormality.

It said that ruling out a new referendum on the issue, the prime minister said Irish voters had voted in previous referendums and had provided provision for the right to travel for abortions.

The Irish Independent reported that Kenny, who was following the court ruling, said terminations would only be allowed where there was a real or substantial threat to the woman's life.

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