Boston CollegeIt is not  surprising that Cardinal Sean O’Malley should decide to skip this year’s commencement at Boston College, at which the archbishop of Boston customarily gives the benediction. B.C. is giving an honorary degree to Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland, who has departed from church teaching by introducing legislation to permit abortions where doctors have determined there is a serious threat to the life of the mother.

Catholic doctrine holds that abortions are not allowed to save the mother’s life (though indirect termination of fetal life may be permitted under the doctrine of double effect). O’Malley is the current chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, as well as one of the eight cardinals named by Pope Francis as an advisory board last month.

Even though Kenny insists he is merely providing ground rules to clarify a two-decade-old Irish Supreme Court decision permitting abortion in order to protect the mother’s life, the Irish bishops have condemned the proposed legislation. In a statement, O’Malley takes the Irish bishops’ position. Given the American bishops’ position that honors not be given by Catholic institutions to politicians who support abortion rights, he effectively had no choice but to stay away.

At the same time, the episode demonstrates just how far outside common opinion Catholic doctrine is. Kenny’s bill would not permit abortions in cases of rape, incest, or fetal defect. It is telling that, in his statement, O’Malley accuses Kenny of “aggressively promoting abortion legislation” — as if the issue were abortion on demand and not a “life of the mother” exception.

Fully 88 percent of Americans support abortion when the mother’s life is endangered. Many of them, probably most, believe that life begins at conception. It’s just that, for them, the life of the mother holds precedence over the life of the fetus. While such a position is anathema in Catholic doctrine, it seems all but ingrained in human nature.

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

3 Comments

  1. I’m not for abortions; but at the same time, I don’t think I can deny a woman who might die if she has her baby the right to determine if she wants to live or not. The RCC has really painted itself into a concrete corner. What would the answers be if Bishops had babies???

  2. You have mischaracterized Catholic teaching on abortion:

    It is important to clarify a point that has been well worked out in Catholic teaching. And this teaching did not come from today or yesterday. It has been around a long time. The medical treatment of mothers whose lives are in danger is permissible even if this results in the unintended death of the child in the womb. When there’s a risk to a pregnant woman’s life, operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of her condition are permitted. Abortion is something very different. It is an act which is directly aimed at ending the life of the unborn child.

  3. Over 7,900 students and parents in America are urging Boston College to cancel Enda Kenny’s visit to the Catholic university because of his shameful, unCatholic pro-abortion stance.
    http://www.tfpstudentaction.org/boston-college-enda-kenny.html#.UZeUscqETg0

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