A solemn, standing-room-only crowd of nearly 1,000 people jammed the nave, aisles and balcony of a large Roman Catholic church in Towson last night for an interfaith service at which a Catholic bishop preached that military action by the United States in the Persian Gulf would be immoral.
Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop P. Francis Murphy received applause at the conclusion of his remarks at Immaculate Conception Church, but not all who attended the service were happy with his position.
A couple who left before the hour and a half of music, prayers and Scripture readings ended with the singing of the Navy Hymn were clearly annoyed. "They said there'd be no politics," the wife said.
She referred to an announcement last week by the Rev. Matthew McNaught, a Unitarian Universalist minister who is president of the sponsoring Towson Area Ministers Association, that the service would be "pastoral rather than political."
A cross section of Towson-area clergy and Christian denominations took part in the ecumenical worship. Excerpts from the writings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday it was, were read with parts of the Old and New Testaments.
Dr. King had preached that "war is obsolete," said one of the speakers. "If we assume that life is worth living," the civil rights leader was quoted as saying, "then we must find an alternative to war."
Bishop Murphy said he was pleased with the size of the crowd and its diversity. "As Christian people of different denominations, we are united in our desire, our hope and our prayer for peace," he said.
But while he said "it is important that . . . we pray fervently for our president and his advisers," he made clear his strong disagreement with their policy in the Persian Gulf.
He noted that some of his fellow Catholic bishops are pacifists and think the traditional Catholic teaching that wars can be justified should be thrown out.
But even under the "just war" theory, the bishop contended, because "the human, economic and other costs" of an attack on Iraq "would not be proportionate to the objective," President Bush's apparent decision to take such a step is wrong. "Who will receive the thousands of refugees?" he asked, and he predicted vast ecological damage.
He said the demand that Saddam Hussein's withdrawal from Kuwait must be unconditional left no room for consideration of Iraq's legitimate grievances.
"After prayerful discernment and reflection on these questions and moral concerns," he said, "I have concluded that attempts to resolve the Persian Gulf crisis militarily are immoral. Military force is clearly for me not a last resort to bring justice."
The bishop did not expect everyone in his audience to agree with him.
"Among informed and thoughtful persons like yourselves," he told the congregation, "we may find a diversity of opinions and perspectives on the ultimate resolution of this international crisis.
"I have been very encouraged by the national debate. But I am also mindful that much misery and suffering have already been experienced by thousands of our brothers and sisters because of this crisis."
Toward the end of the service, the congregation recited together a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that asked, "Lord, make us instruments of your peace; where there is hatred, let us sow love."