It 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.