Medeiros's Letter Against Abortion Changes Tenor of Congressional Race

News Analysis

In the Fourth Congressional District, liberal Barney Frank '61 faces conservative Waltham Mayor Arthur Clark in the Democratic primary. Next door, in the Fifth District, incumbent liberal Rep. James Shannon faces the more conservative Robert Hatem.

But in both races, there is a third name at least as prominent--Humberto Cardinal Medeiros, archbishop of Boston. Although Medeiros has been silent on most social issues, he said in a letter read in many area parishes Sunday supporters of Shannon or Frank--who favor Medicaid funding for abortions--"cannot separate themselves totally from that guilt which accompanies this horrendous crime and deadly sin.

"If you are for true human freedom and for life," the letter stated, "you will follow your conscience when you vote, and you will vote to save our children, born and unborn."

For Shannon, and perhaps for Frank, that letter may be the difference between a tight win and a close loss.

Shannon's Fifth District encompasses the more liberal Lexington and Concord but curves out westward to include more conservative working-class cities like Lowell and Lawrence. Nearly three-quarters of the district is Roman Catholic, and most parishes either read or posted the letter at Sunday services.


What's more, Shannon is already in trouble. Hatem has mounted a strong conservative campaign, and Shannon has failed to consolidate the support that earned him an upset in the primary two years ago. Shannon can't afford to argue with the Church--his only reaction has been a grimace and a "no comment."

But the outspoken Frank has been less hesitant. Although he refused to criticize Medeiros, he labeled the words of another cleric--Msgr. Leo J. Battista--as "deliberate and systematic misstatements."

Speaking on the eve of Rosh Hashana, when Frank--who is Jewish--could not respond, Battista accused the longtime state representative of trying to legalize prostitution and allow X-rated films on television.

Already dubbed "the moral equivalent of the Yom Kippur War" by Frank supporters, the Battista attack and the Medeiros letter could help Frank.


The attacks seem likely to bring reluctant liberals behind Frank. For months his chances have appeared grim, mostly because wealthy, left-leaning constituencies in Newton and Brookline have viewed him as a carpetbagger.

Frank, who moved to the district for the election, persuaded David Mofenson, the other--and only native--liberal in the race, to drop out a few weeks ago. But many Mofenson supporters were less than enthusiastic about backing the chubby Back Bay legislator. "The letter may be just what we need to remind people of the alternatives," one Frank backer in Newton said yesterday.

The furor also brought Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54 (D-Mass.) to each district late last week. Kennedy--who has a strong Catholic following--urged voters to "reject the politics of negativism" and repeated his support for Frank and Shannon.

And Rep. Robert Drinan (D-Mass.), forced to give up his political career by a Vatican edict earlier this year, continued to stump for Frank as his successor, pointedly ignoring the Medeiros letter.

But for many voters in the two districts, the unusual ecclesiastical intervention may swing their votes to Clark and Hatem. "When the votes are counted tomorrow night, we'll know two things: how many people will go out of their way to do what the Catholic Church says, and how many will go out of their way to do the opposite," one Clark campaigner said yesterday.

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