The only thing I have in common with Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny, besides a sheer, unadulterated love of everything about County Mayo, is that we’ve both incurred the wrath of a group of local zealots called the Catholic Action League.
These people would be deeply offensive if they weren’t so deliciously comical. They are self-righteous, self-appointed keepers of the faith, who especially like pointing out that a la carte Catholics — that is, most Catholics, who use contraception, don’t think gay folks are disordered, and believe that people should be allowed to get a divorce — do not belong in their church.
I have fallen afoul of the Catholic Action League many times, most recently when I had the audacity to point out that if Jesus Christ came back to earth he would have been appalled by the spectre of the recent papal election, in which more than a few of the cardinals voting amid much pomp and circumstance had protected predatory priests who raped children. I instead lauded four ordinary priests who should be, but never will be pope.
C.J. Doyle, the executive director of the Catholic Action League, took great offense at the column, suggesting in a letter to the editor that I was insulting the intelligence of “faithful Catholics” by trying to pass off my “dissident friends” as “real Catholics.”
That’s the Catholic Action League for you. Keepin’ it real.
Now, you may have heard the Catholic Action League demanded that Boston College rescind its invitation to poor Enda Kenny, the taoiseach, or prime minister, of Ireland to attend its commencement because he has proposed legislation, on the orders of Ireland’s highest court, that would create an exception to Ireland’s strict prohibition on abortion by making it legal for doctors to abort a fetus if it would save the life of the mother.
Pretty radical stuff, huh?
The caped Crusaders in the Catholic Action League love pointing out how hypocritical Catholics who use condoms and don’t chain their heads to parking meters outside abortion clinics are. They are less forthcoming when it comes to pointing out the hypocrisy of the Catholic bishops who will sit and sup at the feet of some of the worst enablers of sexual abuse in history.
Now, one of those bishops, the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, also made some news by announcing that he agreed with the Catholic Action League, that he could not in good conscience attend the Boston College graduation next Monday at which the aforementioned Enda Kenny, prime minister of Ireland, is to receive an honorary degree and give the commencement speech.
O’Malley accused Kenny of “aggressively promoting abortion legislation,” which is an odd way to describe a democratically elected leader of a republic following the mandatory legal advice of the highest court in the land.
I would be the first guy to defend the cardinal’s right to skip the BC graduation. But his reasoning is embarrassingly flawed and his selectivity in whom he deems worthy of his presence is breathtaking in its hypocrisy.
Enda Kenny, as the duly elected prime minister of the Republic of Ireland, has a duty to respond to court decisions ordering his government to find an exception to Ireland’s strict prohibition against abortion so that doctors and other health care workers can take steps to save the life of a woman in a troubled pregnancy.
Women in Ireland have died because there is no exception to the law. Most recently, it was a 31-year-old woman named Savita Halappanavar, a native of India who was working as a dentist in Ireland while her husband worked in Galway for the Natick-based firm Boston Scientific. When her husband learned the 17-week-old fetus his wife was carrying was nonviable, he begged the doctors to terminate the pregnancy to save his wife. The doctors pointed at the law, threw up their hands, and said there was nothing they could do.
When Praveen Halappanavar expressed exasperation that no one was lifting a finger to save his dying wife, someone tried to explain it by saying, “This is a Catholic country.”
An inquest last year found that Savita Halappanavar would most likely still be alive if the law in Ireland allowed for an abortion in that circumstance.
I am sure Cardinal O’Malley is sincere in his point of view that abortion is wrong, but I’d like to see him try to convince Praveen Halappanavar that non-Catholics like the Halappanavars have to abide by the Catholic Church’s edicts even if it means the death of a mother carrying a fetus that had no chance at life.
OK, enough of the Kafkaesque stuff. Let’s get back to the hypocrisy stuff.
Cardinal O’Malley won’t share a stage with Enda Kenny, a good man who is personally opposed to abortion but knows that his duty as the elected leader of a sovereign nation is not to impose his personal beliefs but to adhere to the Irish Constitution and the Irish people who embody that Constitution. But, while voting for pope, Cardinal O’Malley had no problem sitting in the same room as Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, who belongs not in the Sistine Chapel but San Quentin for his shameless protection of predatory priests who raped children.
Needless to say, Cardinal O’Malley’s snub of Boston College and Enda Kenny is going down well with the Catholic Action League, but it’s also going down well with the Vatican, where the prime minister of Ireland is viewed as a dangerous heretic.
When the clerical sexual abuse crisis exploded in Ireland, it was a blast caused by the scandal that unfolded right here in Boston. Irish people began demanding answers. The adults who as children were beaten and raped and psychologically ravaged while under the care of priests and brothers and nuns in Catholic orphanages and workhouses demanded justice.
Kenny’s predecessor, Bertie Ahern, indemnified the Catholic Church in Ireland to the tune of $1 billion. So the taxpayers of Ireland, not the Catholic institutions who protected the predators, paid the bulk of the redress handed out to victims.
When Kenny became prime minister, he sounded a different tune. Two years ago, after the release of yet another report that showed how Irish bishops and the Vatican downplayed the rape and torture of Irish children by clerical predators, Enda Kenny found his indignation and his voice. He rose in the Dail, Ireland’s parliament, and accused the Vatican of caring more about maintaining its power than protecting children.
“The Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, the disconnection, the elitism that dominate the culture of the Vatican today,” Kenny said. “The rape and the torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, its standing, and its reputation. Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St. Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart,’ the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyze it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.”
The bishops can try to say with a straight face that none of them should take to the stage with Enda Kenny because he is about to propose legislation to legalize abortion in some rare instances, but let’s be honest here: Kenny is hated by the Catholic hierarchy for that achingly honest and courageous speech he gave in the Dail in 2011.
Having reread the speech, I don’t think Boston College should be giving Kenny a degree. They should be giving him a medal.
Cardinal O’Malley is a very learned man, and he understands logic, and so by his logic I’m assuming he will not be accepting any money from all those well-heeled BC alums who are big donors to the archdiocese, because BC gives honorary degrees to people like Enda Kenny who want to save the lives of women who might die in difficult pregnancies.
Look, I was always fond of Cardinal O’Malley. I’ve written about him in very positive terms many times. He cares about the poor. But he’s lost me with this one. He and his self-righteous, preening acolytes in the Catholic Action League have staggered so far from reason and logic that it is hard to take any of them seriously anymore.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.