A small Catholic college in Massachusetts has been pressured by the local bishop into canceling an invitation to the widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to deliver the school’s commencement address because of her support of abortion rights and gay marriage.

Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus also told officials at Anna Maria College last week that the school should not give Victoria Kennedy an honorary degree, diocesan spokesman Raymond L. Delisle said Monday.

Anna Maria officials said in a statement to local media that they canceled the invitation after intense debate and with “deep regret.” The executive committee of the college’s Board of Trustees noted that “as a small, Catholic college that relies heavily on the good will of its relationship with the bishop and the larger Catholic community, its options are limited.”

Kennedy said she understood the pressures faced by officials at Anna Maria College, a liberal arts school of about 1,100 students in Paxton, Mass.

McManus believes that Catholic institutions “should be honoring Catholics for their consistent public positions with the church, not for contrary positions with the church, especially on core issues such as the right to life and the sanctity of marriage,” Delisle said.

Anna Maria College, a small Catholic school, canceled an invitation to Victoria Kennedy, wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), to deliver the school’s commencement address because of her support of abortion rights and gay marriage. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Kennedy, who was to have received an honorary degree in public administration, said in a statement that she was “disheartened” by the cancellation. She said that McManus had not responded to her invitations to discuss the matter, nor had the bishop spoken to her pastor.

“I am a lifelong Catholic and my faith is very important to me. I am not a public official. I hold no public office nor am I a candidate for public office,” Kennedy said. “Yet by objecting to my appearance at Anna Maria College, he has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic. This is a sad day for me and an even sadder one for the church I love.”

Kennedy is a lawyer and founder of Common Sense about Kids and Guns, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce gun deaths and violence among children. She has not been notably outspoken on abortion rights and gay rights, although her late husband was a prominent champion of those causes.

— Religion News Service