Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley said Friday that he won't attend Boston College's graduation because the Jesuit school's commencement speaker, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, supports legislation to permit abortion.
The bill allows abortion if a doctor authorizes it to save a women's life. Opponents say the bill would lead to widespread abortion by also allowing it if a woman threatens suicide.
In a statement Friday, O'Malley said abortion is "a crime against humanity" and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked Catholic institutions not to honor officials who promote it. Kenny is set to receive an honorary degree from BC at the May 20 commencement.
O'Malley said that since Boston College hasn't withdrawn its invitation, and Kenny hasn't declined it, "I shall not attend the graduation."
"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 said.
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said the school respects O'Malley and regrets he won't attend graduation. "However, we look forward to our commencement and to Prime Minister Kenny's remarks," he said in a statement.
Dunn said Kenny was invited to BC because of his country's historically close relationship with the college and that the school "supports the church's commitment to the life of the unborn."
Kenny has said the bill affirms, rather than weakens, Ireland's general prohibition against abortion.
"Our aim is to protect the lives of women and their unborn babies by clarifying the circumstances in which doctors can intervene where a woman's life is at risk," he said in a May 1 speech.
An email requesting comment was sent to Kenny's office in Dublin on Friday and a voicemail requesting comment was left with an Irish Consulate-General in the U.S. Neither was immediately returned.
Ireland has the toughest abortion restrictions in Europe under an 1861 law that makes it a crime punishable by life in prison.
In 1992, its Supreme Court ruled abortion should be legal only if doctors determine it's needed to save the woman's life. But voters rejected two referendums, in 1992 and 2002, to allow abortion to stop a physical threat to a woman's life, not including suicide.
The latest bill is being debated following last year's death of Savita Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant when she was hospitalized at the start of a protracted miscarriage. She died of massive organ failure after doctors refused her request for an abortion.
The bill permits a single doctor to authorize an abortion if the woman's life is in immediate danger, requires two doctors' approval if a pregnancy poses a potentially lethal risk and mandates three doctors' approval if the woman is threatening suicide.
O'Malley said the Irish bishops have concluded the bill "represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law."
Last year, another Catholic college in Massachusetts was involved in a similar controversy after the Bishop of Worcester (Mass.) pressured Anna Maria College in Paxton to rescind an invitation to U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, to deliver its commencement address. Bishop Robert McManus objected to Kennedy's public support for abortion rights and gay marriage.
Kennedy later accepted the Boston College School of Law's invitation to give the keynote address at commencement.