On May 20, the Prime Minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny, will receive an honorary degree and deliver the commencement address at Boston College, a Jesuit university. The Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, has announced he will boycott the ceremony because Kenny supports a bill in Ireland that legalizes abortion to save the life of the mother. This bill, which according to Kenny merely codifies existing law, was written after a woman named Salvita Halappanavar was denied a medical termination even as she was having a miscarriage and died. O'Malley, however, cites the church teaching that "the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong." Generally seen as quiet, humble, and competent, the cardinal presents the decision as absolute. He precludes any possibility of dialogue or discussion -- he simply cannot bless the graduates, nor the Prime Minister, owing to Kenny's backing of the Irish bill.
But the American Catholic hierarchy has not always been so consistent in its response to politicians who break with Catholic teachings.
O'Malley's decision evokes the controversy over Barack Obama's commencement speech at Notre Dame in 2009. The Bishop of Fort Wayne boycotted the event because of Obama's position on abortion. Conservative media fanned the flames. The conservative Cardinal Newman Society created an online petition asking the president of Notre Dame to cancel the invitation. It received over 367,000 signatures. Eighty-three bishops publicly objected to the choice of speaker. Ralph McInerny, who at the time had taught philosophy at Notre Dame for 54 years, opined, "By inviting Barack Obama to be the 2009 commencement speaker, Notre Dame has forfeited its right to call itself a Catholic university."