AN American cardinal has accused Taoiseach Enda Kenny of "aggressively promoting abortion legislation" and has refused to attend an event to honour him.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley was to be a guest at the Boston College conferral ceremony in the US city on May 20 at which the Taoiseach will receive an honorary degree.
But in a statement issued yesterday, the cardinal said he would not be attending because "the Catholic Bishops of the United States have asked that Catholic institutions not honour government officials or politicians who promote abortion with their laws and policies".
Anti-abortion Catholic activists had already targeted the event at the Jesuit-run college at which the Taoiseach is due to give the opening address.
They claimed Mr Kenny was not a "fit" person to be the commencement speaker and urged people to contact several people to demand he be uninvited, among them the cardinal, the Pope and the head of Boston College William Leahy.
In his statement, Cardinal O'Malley said he was sure that the invitation from the college was "made in good faith, long before it came to the attention of the leadership of Boston College that Mr Kenny is aggressively promoting abortion legislation".
He noted that the Irish bishops had responded to that development by affirming the church's teaching that "the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong" and he expressed serious concern that the proposed legislation "represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law".
"Since the university has not withdrawn the invitation and because the Taoiseach has not seen fit to decline, I shall not attend the graduation," he said.
The cardinal said it was his "ardent hope" that the college would "redress the confusion, disappointment and harm caused by not adhering to the bishops' directives".
And he assured the graduates that although he would not be there to give the final benediction, they would be in his prayers on that day.
Given the attention the event has received from anti-abortion campaigners, there are concerns there will be large demonstrations at the event.
However, the Taoiseach's presence at the event is lauded in an article on the Boston College website.
Last night, a government press spokesman said he had no comment to make on the cardinal's statement or decision not to attend the event.
The incident is yet another in a period of unprecedented tension between the government and the church.
When the Pope criticised Ireland's proposed abortion laws, the Taoiseach insisted the Government was not bringing in abortion on demand.
Intervening in the abortion debate, Pope Benedict XVI had expressed his "dismay" at proposals to bring in legislation "in various countries, even those of Christian tradition".
And, in the wake of the report in the Cloyne Diocese two years ago, the Taoiseach was withering in his criticism of the Catholic Church for downplaying the rape and torture of children.
He accused the Vatican of "dysfunction, disconnection and elitism" in its failure to tackle clerical child sex abuse.