WORCESTER - In March, Anna Maria College withdrew its commencement speaking invitation to Victoria Reggie Kennedy after Bishop Robert J. McManus told school officials that the widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy was not an appropriate speaker because of her views on abortion, contraception, and gay marriage.
Now, the bishop will not be attending the commencement either after he was asked by school officials on Thursday to skip the May 19 graduation exercises at the Hanover Theater for the Performing Arts because his appearance might be a distraction.
Officials at the Paxton college said two graduating students will serve as commencement speakers and the college’s chaplain, the Rev. Manuel Clavjo, will give the invocation and benediction.
Raymond L. Delisle, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, said Anna Maria president Jack Calareso and Sister Yvette Bellerose, chairwoman of the school’s board of trustees, had a brief meeting Thursday at the chancery.
He said they asked the bishop to consider not attending and he agreed.
“They felt the bishop would be a distraction to the event,’’ said Delisle, who described the meeting as cordial. “He was going to attend, but that’s not going to happen now.’’
In a statement, school officials said the relationship between the school and the diocese “remains strong’’ and that “the two organizations will continue to work together with respect and collegiality to advance the goals and values of quality Catholic education.’’
Paula Green, a school spokeswoman, said she assumed that Calareso and Bellerose discussed the matter with the board before meeting with McManus.
Debra DeShong Reed, a spokeswoman for Victoria Kennedy, said she had no comment. “This is something between the school and the bishop,’’ she said.
School officials said they feared that the continuing controversy over the withdrawal of the invitation to Kennedy would mar the celebration of the students’ achievements. There has also been some speculation that protesters might show up at the graduation.
Kennedy’s disinvitation drew national attention. Two organizations - Catholic Democrats and Faithful America - recently presented a petition with at least 20,000 signatures to McManus, requesting that he ask school officials to reinstate Kennedy, who was also scheduled to receive an honorary degree, as speaker.
Spokesmen for the bishop said the prelate felt that Kennedy was not a good choice as speaker because her views conflicted with Catholic teachings and beliefs on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
Supporters of Kennedy, meanwhile, said she was a good Catholic with a track record of fighting for gun control and on behalf of the children and the needy.
Graduating students Juliann M. Hartley, a resident of Bow, N.H., and Erin De Coste, a Lancaster resident, will serve as commencement speakers.
Hartley, who double-majored in music therapy and psychology, is scheduled to receive a bachelor of music degree and De Coste, who studied special education, will be given a master’s degree in education. The college’s baccalaureate Mass will be celebrated by Clavjo on May 18 on campus.