Why Cardinal O'Malley Is Staying Home

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Boston College's seniors graduate today without the traditional blessing of their Archbishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

That's because the college chose scandal over solidarity by inviting a politician who flouts Catholic Church teaching to be its commencement speaker.

The college invited Enda Kenny, the Prime Minister of Ireland, to speak to graduates. Mr. Kenny is currently pushing an abortion law in Ireland, one of the few fully pro-life countries left in the world. And he is the same man who had his foreign minister close down Ireland's embassy to the Holy See and tried to pass laws that would jail priests who do not violate the seal of confession, a sacred space considered inviolate by the Church. He has consistently trashed the Catholic Church and will no doubt use the platform Boston College has literally constructed for him to continue to do so.

This leaves Cardinal O'Malley with no choice but to stay home.

His critics will accuse him of close-mindedness and argue that the halls of the academy are meant for discussion and conversation about the issues of our day. But a graduation ceremony is not a conversation. It is an honor bestowed on the speaker and a prime opportunity to unilaterally exhort one's ideals on the rising generation. Were it an invitation to a debate or dialogue, one could make the argument that Cardinal O'Malley should attend. But a prince of the Church cannot offer his blessing to what is little more than an anti-Catholic politician using an esteemed Catholic institution of higher education for his own political gain.

Cardinal O'Malley's decision is not intended to punish the students of Boston College. Rather, the college is punishing its own students by drawing them into a scandal and depriving them of the privilege of graduating in the presence of a man who just returned from electing the Pope and who himself was considered a possibility for the role. The students have the right to begin the next stage of their lives with the blessing of their bishop. But the bishop has the right and the duty to avoid the appearance that he supports abortion.

As Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1995 papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, "No word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth." The Catholic Church does not have the authority to change the humanity of all people nor determine whose humanity is more valuable. That all people, regardless of age, sex, race, or genetic composition, have the right to life is a position that her leaders are obligated to defend. A cardinal does not have the authority to change what is fundamental Church teaching.

So while some may accuse Cardinal O'Malley of stubbornness, he doesn't really have a choice in the matter. He has taken a vow to defend life in all stages, and moments such as these are when he must flex his own humanity by discerning his conscience. He is a conscientious objector, something the American project has made a wide space for.

The Boston College scandal is reminiscent of the scandals that surround so many Catholic politicians in America these days. Politicians who one day call themselves Catholic only to turn around and enact laws so restrictive of religious freedom that their own church is suing them nationwide. Political figures who embrace the label Catholic and turn around and honor abortionists such as LeRoy Carhart, recently caught on tape referring to fully viable babies as like "meat in a crockpot". These men and women seek to co-opt the Church into complicity with their political agendas, something the Church is quite used to but quite successful in refusing.

This is a free country. Catholics may rise to power and flout their Church. Catholic institutions of higher education are free to buck their bishops and give a microphone to figures that promote what the Church considers grave evil.

But thankfully, those same bishops are not required to tip their mitre in approval. They are free to protest and stand on principle in allegiance to their Church.

I didn't attend Boston College; I went around the corner to Tufts University. But I can say with certainty that if I were a graduating senior at Boston College today, nothing would give me greater honor than to sit in quiet protest with Cardinal O'Malley.

Ashley E. McGuire is a Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association.

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