A new bishop takes a stand
Speaks out on abortion, other issues in homily
By James L. Franklin, Globe Staff, 3/24/1984
ne of a new generation of Roman Catholic bishops began his leadership in Boston yesterday by trying to persuade others that abortion is a sin that undermines efforts to better human life.
Archbishop Bernard F. Law told more than 2500 persons who filled Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston's South End that abortion "is the cloud that shrouds the conscience of the world.
"Having made our peace with the death of the most innocent among us, it is small wonder that we are so ineffective in dealing with hunger, in dealing with injustice, in dealing with the threat of nuclear war," Archbishop Law said in a 20-minute sermon during the elaborate, 2 1/2-hour installation Mass.
"In naming the darkness, we must speak the truth in love," he said before an unusually large delegation of Catholic bishops and the largest gathering of leaders of other religious groups here since Pope John Paul II visited Boston in 1979.
"Like Jesus, our purpose is not to condemn, but rather to persuade, to call to conversion," the prelate said.
The reaction was favorable, even from those who disagree with him on the issue. "He presented the official position of his church with grace and candor," said Rev. Dr. James A. Nash, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, most of whose member denominations oppose legislation forbidding abortion.
"I disagree with him but I appreciate the honesty with which he spoke," said Dr. Nash.
There are "good creative differences between us," said Rabbi Richard M. Yellin of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill. "In respecting his beliefs, I hope he will reach out to others of different persuasions."
The 53-year-old churchman used the installation service to do just that. He had invited leaders of other religious groups to come sit in the sanctuary of the cathedral, and more than 85 Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish leaders arrived, sending clergy and ushers scrambling for more chairs.
Archbishop Law greeted them warmly, a few during the long service itself and many more as he made his slow progress around the packed cathedral at the end of the Mass.
Turning to leaders of other Christian churches, the archbishop pledged "to pray, to dialogue and to work in the quest for that deeper communion which is God's will for us."
He also told Jewish representatives that "ours is a strong bond which seeks ever new expression."
He had far less to say to the federal, state and local officials attending, offering his prayers and cooperation "in all those programs which are for the common good."
Instead, he used the ritual of the Mass and his own body language to convey a message of friendliness and engagement with an audience expanded by live television and radio coverage.
His comments were delivered in the warm, earnest voice he has used throughout his first two days in Boston and he repeatedly gestured in an open- handed way during the long Mass.
The prelate also displayed a musical voice as he sang many of the prayers of the Mass.
The installation celebration was distinguished by the attendance of more than 130 Catholic bishops, a substantially larger turnout, for instance, than for the installation earlier this week of Archbishop John J. O'Connor in New York.
The Vatican delegate to the United States, Archbishop Pio Laghi, presided at the early ceremony. "This day truly represents a new beginning," Archbishop Laghi said in asking the people of the archdiocese to support their new religious leader.
The installation fell six months to the day after the funeral of Humberto Cardinal Medeiros, Archbishop Law's predecessor. Several members of the Medeiros family attended yesterday's Mass.
And one of the scripture readings for the Mass was read by Janice O'Neill, who was among the nurses who cared for the late cardinal during his final illness at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton.
Adding to the pageantry of the occasion were large contingents of Catholic fraternal groups, including the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Malta and the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher.
The archbishop's comparatively brief address came in the form of a homily, intended to expand on the scripture readings for the Mass, not as a speech with applause lines or as a long inaugural statement of his purpose in Boston.
The congregation, which applauded enthusiastically as he entered and left the cathedral, didn't interrupt the sermon and applauded just briefly at the end.
In rejecting abortion, Archbishop Law treated it as one of a number of moral problems.
The church "must name the darkness," the new Boston archbishop said, "whether it be the clouds which shroud the individual conscience in the idolatry of self, in the suffocation of consumerism, in the paralysis of materialism, in the excesses of sensuality or in the consequences of sinful decisions, in hunger, poverty, discrimination, war, abortion."
In doing so, he followed the lead of other senior American bishops, like Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, who have recently come to emphasize the connection of abortion to other issues, particularly nuclear weapons.
The majority of those attending yesterday were Catholic lay persons, who had been invited to represent their parishes or other Catholic organizations.
Archbishop Law appealed to them for their loyalty, especially on moral questions.
"As bishop, I see it as my task to teach," he said. "Within the community of faith I will call you . . . to live out fully our profession of faith."
"The truths of faith must illumine all our decisions," he said. "We cannot tolerate the false notion that it can be yes' in some aspects of our life and no' in others."
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 3/24/1984.