Cardinal Sean O'Malley skipped Boston College's commencement Monday to protest its decision to honor Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who backs legislation to permit abortion, and O'Malley's views were echoed outside the ceremony by a few dozen anti-abortion activists.
The protesters gathered at an entrance to the stadium where Kenny gave the keynote address and received an honorary degree, with some holding signs saying it was a scandal that the Catholic school was hosting Kenny.
The bill Kenny supports allows abortion only if a doctor authorizes it to save a woman's life. But opponents say it would lead to widespread abortions because of a provision that permits it if a woman threatens suicide.
Protester C.J. Doyle of the Catholic Action League called that "the proverbial Mack truck loophole" and said Boston College's decision to honor Kenny undermines the church's anti-abortion teachings.
"What rational person can reasonably be expected to take seriously Catholic opposition to abortion when our own Catholic institutions honor someone who's trying to legalize abortion in his country?" he said.
Kenny didn't mention the controversy during his keynote address.
Afterward, Kenny told reporters the bill does nothing to change an 1861 Irish law that makes abortion a crime punishable by life in prison.
Instead, the bill "is setting out clarity and legal certainty, that is intended to save lives, not to end them," he said.
In 1992, Ireland's Supreme Court ruled abortion should be legal if doctors determine it's needed to save the woman's life. In 1992 and 2002, voters rejected two referendums to allow abortion to stop a physical threat to a woman's life, not including suicide.
The current bill is being debated following last year's death of a woman who was hospitalized at the start of a protracted miscarriage during her 17th week of pregnancy. Doctors refused her request for an abortion and she died of massive organ failure.
The bill permits a single doctor to authorize an abortion if the woman's life is in immediate danger. Two doctors must approve if a pregnancy poses a potentially lethal risk. The approval of three doctors is required if the woman is threatening suicide.
O'Malley announced he'd skip Boston College's graduation earlier this month, saying Irish bishops had concluded the bill "represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law," and noting that U.S. bishops have asked Catholic institutions not to honor officials who promote abortion.
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said Monday that Kenny' s invitation was unrelated to the controversial legislation and was offered solely because of historical ties between his country and a school founded by an Irish Jesuit to serve Irish immigrants.
He said the invitation to Kenny in no way erodes the school's anti-abortion stance.
"Boston College as a Catholic institution fully supports the church's commitment to the unborn," he said.