Boston and Ireland enjoy a deep historical kinship. So Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s visit to Boston College for the school’s commencement next week ought to be an honor for the college, and the city.
Unfortunately, his appearance has gotten caught up in controversy about a proposed abortion law in Ireland. Kenny’s willingness to allow abortion in case of serious threats to a mother’s life has caused Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley to say he will boycott BC’s graduation, in a break with long-standing tradition.
Heavily Catholic Ireland does not permit abortion, but public opinion was shaken by a heartbreaking case last year when a woman died after she was denied what might have been a life-saving abortion. The Irish Supreme Court has also ruled that women have the right to emergency abortions, a right that Kenny’s proposal would formalize. While abortion is a polarizing issue, protecting the lives of mothers should be a point of common ground.
O’Malley is entitled to avoid Kenny if he wants. But as a Catholic institution, Boston College has to strike a difficult balance, upholding church teachings while providing an open academic environment to a diverse student body. It’s right to refuse to alter its plans to present Kenny with an honorary degree. Kenny’s visit is a credit to the institution, and to its graduates, and that’s where the focus should be next week.