Cardinal Sean O'Malley stayed away from the ceremony at one of the country's leading Catholic colleges, The Boston Globe reported. O'Malley as head of the Boston archdiocese would normally have given the benediction but said B.C. should have withdrawn its invitation to Kenny after he introduced a bill to legalize abortion in Ireland when needed to save a woman's life.
Kenny, who received an honorary doctorate of laws, gave a 23-minute speech that combined standard advice to graduates -- "be successful, be well" -- with a reminder of the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon and of the close ties between Ireland and the United States. He did not mention the abortion controversy.
"The hands roughened in Irish soil, were leathered in your mines, your scaffolding, your bridges, your railroads," Kenny said. "Over the generations, our farmers-turned-laborers saw to it that their children went from the schoolhouse and the firehouse, right to the White House itself.''
The graduates and about 20,000 guests at Alumni Stadium rose to applaud Kenny. School officials told the Globe standing ovations are rare at commencements.
About 40 people protested Kenny's presence in a demonstration outside the Boston College gates.
"If Boston College won't stand for the pre-born at its graduation ceremonies, we will," Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life in America, said in a statement.
The law now before the Irish Parliament or Dail aims to codify a 20-year-old court decision that abortion must be allowed to save a woman's life. It was introduced after Savita Halappanavar died last year at a Galway hospital after doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy as long as they could detect a fetal heartbeat, even though there was no chance she would deliver a viable baby.