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Bush visit sign of his ties to Cardinal Law

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 9/23/1989

ENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- President Bush's speech in Boston to a Catholic lawyer's group today, his second appearance in the city during his presidency, is testament to the fast friendship between him and Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

Less than five years after the two men first shook hands, Bush's relationship with Law has become his strongest with any religious leader, except possibly Rev. Billy Graham, the evangelist.

"There's an extraordinary bond between them," said Douglas Wead, Bush's White House liaison with the religious community, earlier this week. "They have found that they share common views and values on life. They simply enjoy each other's company."

White House officials and sources close to Cardinal Law said the two men spend their time, in person or in their frequent telephone conversations, discussing both secular and nonsecular topics, including the issues of the day, people they have met and places they have visited.

While he is a political independent who publicly supported neither Bush nor Gov. Dukakis during the 1988 presidential campaign, Cardinal Law shares a common conservative outlook with Bush, especially on abortion.

Despite those shared values, Wead said, both men have shown they are sensitive to the possibility that they might be seen to be exploiting the relationship.

Recalling the efforts by Presidents Johnson and Nixon to draw close to Rev. Graham during their political crises, one White House official said Bush "is well aware of the dangers. That's why he has kept the relationship as low-key as possible."

In fact, Bush raised that concern in a memorandum to Wead in February 1986 after his first substantive discussions with Cardinal Law.

The two men had shared the podium in Atlanta at the first national celebration of the late Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday, and Cardinal Law took Bush up on his offer to ride back to Washington aboard Air Force Two and spend the night in the vice president's residence.

Bush wrote to Wead: "I do want to see more of Cardinal Law. I would never exploit what I hope will grow into a fast friendship. Barbara and I are thinking of inviting him up to Maine for a very quiet weekend at Walker's Point, a very short drive from Boston, this summer. I don't want to impose on him, but this could be great fun."

Since then Cardinal Law has visited Bush at Kennebunkport for dinner on several occasions, including a visit during Bush's first trip here after being elected president last November.

If the two men have taken care to avoid exploiting the relationship publicly, the openness of their discussions as well as their willingness to be seen together may inevitably mean each is influenced by the other's positions on public issues.

Last January, three days after taking the oath of office, Bush used a telephone hookup to address an antiabortion rally, supported and attended by Cardinal Law, to announce that he favored a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion.

Wead skirted the question of whether Cardinal Law had discussed the abortion amendment with Bush before the rally. "I don't think there's any topic that is off limits between the two men, but as to specific conversations, that's between the two of them," he said.

Whether by design or happenstance, a visit by Cardinal Law to the White House last month wound up benefiting Bush while he was enmeshed in the Mideast hostage crisis. The event was supposed to be a simple lunch at which Cardinal Law would have the chance to discuss issues with Bush and two advisers. But before dining, Bush called in a pool of White House reporters and, with the cardinal at his side, explained how he was handling the crisis and his intention to have a national day of prayer.

During that visit to the White House, Cardinal Law invited Bush to speak at today's annual dinner of the Catholic Lawyers' Guild of the Boston Archdiocese. After a quick check of his schedule, Bush accepted.

Alexander Tennant, the executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said Bush's visit, while honoring a commitment to Cardinal Law, also represents the interest that national GOP leaders have in boosting the party's image here.

Bush, however, turned down Cardinal Law's offer to attend the Red Mass in Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End that precedes the lunch. The mass, named for the red vestments worn by the participants, is said annually for lawyers and judges in search of divine guidance and strength.

A White House official said Bush's attendance at the Mass, which would be his first in a Catholic church since being sworn in, might be perceived as a slight to Washington's Cardinal James Hickey.

Cardinal Law declined to be interviewed last week about his friendship with Bush, but in an interview at the White House last month he provided some insight on why he enjoys Bush's company, "He is a very competent person who listens and also asks probing questions," Cardinal Law said.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 9/23/1989.
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