Archbishop Law begins role
as leader of area's Catholics
By James L. Franklin, Globe Staff, 3/23/1984
rchbishop Bernard F. Law took charge of the nation's third-largest Roman Catholic archdiocese yesterday afternoon in a simple ceremony before the toughest audience he will face in Boston.
Two thousand members of his clergy stood on tiptoe and frequently interrupted the service at Holy Cross Cathedral with applause. A particularly enthusiastic response came when he told them they were "in a very real sense my arms, my ears, my eyes, my heart."
"We need one another," he said in a 15-minute talk that emphasized the close relationship of bishops, priests and deacons.
In his first day as leader of two million Catholics in eastern Massachusetts, Archbishop Law not only appealed for the clergy's loyalty but promised to build structures in which cooperation can take place.
He promised to attend every meeting of a revamped Priests Senate and make it "my ultimate consultative body."
Consultation will not be confined to the clergy, he said.
"My experience as priest and bishop has convinced me that successful ordained ministry flows out of an authentic understanding of the church as the people of God."
Members of religious orders and lay people "must be welcomed to share their rightful roles . . . in the mission of the church," he said, not because there is a shortage of clergy but "because the nature of the church demands it."
For that reason, he said, he will establish a diocesan pastoral council and encourage and strengthen local parish councils so other members of the church can speak about the decisions facing pastors.
While those bodies are consultative and not boards of trustees, the archbishop indicated that their role should be a strong one. "Consultation has its own authority," he said, "when it is given and received within the context of the faith community."
Creation of those bodies is mandated by the Catholic Church's new code of canon law, which went into effect last November. The archdiocese has had no diocesan council, and many parishes have no councils either.
One initiative the archbishop announced was the calling together of "a representative group of the archdiocese to plan an archdiocesan synod." He said the synod would require several years of preparation and "will propose diocesan legislation and suggest mission goals for the church in Boston."
The simple service, attended by more than 80 percent of the clergy in the archdiocese, began with the procession of the small group of bishops and the Board of Consultors, the senior priests who acted as trustees of the archdiocese after the death of Humberto Cardinal Medeiros last Sept. 17.
Archbishop Pio Laghi, the Vatican representative to the United States, read the brief letter by which Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Law.
Then the auxiliary bishops of Boston and the rest of the consultors signed the letter on the main altar of the cathedral and embraced their new archbishop. That done, Archbishop Law officially took control of the archdiocese.
The remainder of the 80-minute service was a celebration of evening prayer such as that observed daily by clergy and members of religious orders.
While he promised to meet with priests and deacons frequently, often in small groups, Archbishop Law also emphasized his role as pastor and religious superior of his clergy.
He stressed the obligation of the clergy to be orthodox because they share his responsibility to spread the teaching of the church.
"Those to whom we minister have a God-given right to expect from us the authentic teaching of the church," he said.
He made a strong statement about the authority of the Pope, declaring that "it is the Holy Father's magisterial authority which is the touchstone of our Catholic faith." He also indicated that he will seek to bring the church's leadership to a variety of social issues because they are also religious issues.
"Be yoked with me as we call the church in Boston and the wider community to new horizons of justice and of peace," he said.
"Ours is not the role of politicians, but ours are appropriately the issues which affect the life and welfare of human persons," Archbishop Law said. "From the national disgrace of abortion to the scandal of world hunger to the specter of nuclear warfare, I expect you to stand with me in giving voice to the church's authentic teaching and legitimate concern."
That elicited the loudest applause during his address.
Later, a majority of the priests at the cathedral attended a reception at which they waited to greet him again.
Privately, all expressed pleasure with what they interpreted as the archbishop's endorsement of a wide range of church ministries, his vote of confidence in parish councils and his emphasis on the church as "the people of God."
They were both delighted and almost unwilling to believe it. "It all sounds too good to be true," said one.
"I'm going to hold my judgment for a while," said another. "We've heard the plans before, and I'd like to see them come true. The archbishop was emphatic about the importance of the clergy as the key leaders of his church, pleading in his low-key way for their support and enthusiasm.
"It is inconceivable to me that any other life could afford the challenge, the sense of purpose and fulfillment that is ours as bishops, priests and deacons," he said. "I cannot imagine a more exciting moment to be privileged to be heralds of the Gospel than this time which we share. Thoughtful men and women of our age are openly searching for answers to fundamental questions.
"We possess, not as a static formula but in a dynamic relationship, the word of life which is Christ the Lord," Archbishop Law said.
Today, the archbishop plans to address the lay people and wider community of Boston in his formal installation Mass at 2:30 p.m. at Holy Cross Cathedral.
He will follow that with a special Mass for nuns tomorrow at the cathedral.
This afternoon's installation service is scheduled to be carried live by the three major Boston television stations. In addition, Channel 44 plans to broadcast the Mass with sign language interpretation for the hearing impaired.
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 3/23/1984.