Letters between governor, bishop made public

Maryland's Governor Martin O'Malley and Baltimore's Archbishop Edwin O'Brien were publicly at odds over O'Malley's support of same-sex marriage earlier this summer, and The Washington Post reports on private letters between the two that are now public:

“I have concluded that discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation in the context of civil marital rights is unjust,” O’Malley wrote to the archbishop. “I have also concluded that treating the children of families headed by same-sex couples with lesser protections under the law than the children of families headed by heterosexual parents, is also unjust.”


O’Brien’s appeal to O’Malley was made in starkly personal terms.

“I am well aware that the recent events in New York have intensified pressure on you to lend your active support to legislation to redefine marriage,” O’Brien wrote. “As advocates for the truths we are compelled to uphold, we speak with equal intensity and urgency in opposition to your promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith, not to mention the best interests of our society.”

O’Brien continued: “It is especially hard to fathom your taking such a step, given the fact that our requests last year for you to sponsor legislation to repeal the death penalty and support students in Catholic and other nonpublic schools went unheeded.”

O'Malley, who attends daily Mass several times each week, cites several issues where he is aligned with the church, including the eradication of poverty, labor, and tax issues. He further writes:

“I do not presume, nor would I ever presume as governor, to question or infringe upon your freedom to define, to preach about and to administer the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church,” O’Malley wrote. “But on the public issue of granting equal civil marital rights to same-sex couples, you and I disagree. . . . I look forward to working with you on other issues of mutual agreement. And I respect your freedom to disagree with me as a citizen and as a religious leader without questioning your motives.”

What is the proper relationship between a Catholic public servant and his or her bishop? Is it appropriate for a Catholic to disregard a church leader's advice regarding public policy? Do letters such as this constitute formal lobbying on behalf of the Catholic Church? Are bishops acting merely as private citizens or do they represent a powerful political organization?

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Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 5 months ago
I don't agree with you David, that individuals are all leaders and this is the current world view in the Western Church.  Among the people that I associate with, we are just more discerning about who we follow.  Clerical authority does not automatically guarantee a following any more.

But there are plenty of leaders out there, steeped in Catholic wisdom and tradition.  Thomas Merton is one of my favorite mentors, as are Richard Rohr, Fr. Thomas Keating, Sister Kathleen Diegnan, Cynthia Beaurgeault.

I am fairly certain that this is the spirit and hope of our age.  At least it fills me with much hope and wonder.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 5 months ago
Since you're asking the questions, Michael ... It's complicated.

It is my opinion that the Church could be much more effective in influencing public policy if they put more attention to teaching and living the truths of the faith than changing laws.

That being said, there are laws on the books that allow killing of human life - the laws that allows abortion, the death penalty, (and war, but I won't go there), and these laws must be opposed.

I was proud of Bishop O'Brien for his public request to the Governor to repeal the death penalty.

Wouldn't the bishops have much more "authority" in the public square if the lives of their faithful reflected their teachings?  Which brings me back to thinking that the bishops should focus on their congregations, rather than politicians.

I really don't know the answer.
Martin Gallagher
7 years 5 months ago
It's laudable that Bp O’Brien’s is gently encouraging Gov O’Malley to rejoin the fold; hopefully, Gov O'Malley will respond positively.  I'm curious why these letters were made public.   
7 years 5 months ago
It's said they were released by the Governor at the request (and pressure) of the media.
The Church neds to maintain a voice in the public sqaure!
It should think perhaps more deeply on the nattles it wishes to wage and how to wage them.
Crystal Watson
7 years 5 months ago
I think this kind of behind the scenes pressuring of public officials by the church is wrong.  Obviously O'Malley knew the church stance and didn't need to be reminded of it, so this wasn't an informative correspondence, it was political arm twisting out of the view of the public .... secretive lobbying.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 5 months ago
After thinking about this some more, I'm wondering if the bishops should not not be more attentive to serving (and learning from) their congregations (rather than "leading" them).  From my vantage point, there is a growing and thriving movement in the Catholic Church, composed of both clerics and laity, that is searching and finding real ways to be Catholic in the world.  The Contemplative Prayer movement is the one that I'm associated with, and it is the most exciting thing that I've found since Vatican 2.  My group(s) meet at local churches and are composed of both young and old.  It is interesting that we have to keep our agendas somewhat "underground" because of all of the thought police who are disgruntled by what we do and who we listen to.  But I'm convinced that the energy (and Spirit) here is the guiding light of the future Church.  Yet most seminaries have no grounding at all in contemplative prayer.  Bishops and future priest are missing the beat.  Vatican 2 did indeed happen and the Spirit is with the laity.
Anne Chapman
7 years 5 months ago
The failure of many to distinguish between civil and religious roles played by politicians in this country is disturbing.  Gov. O'Malley is discussing civil marriage - he has no quarrel with religions continuing to apply their own rules to religious marriages.  In many countries of Europe and elsewhere, the only legal marriage is the civil marriage - religious marriages are done for religious reasons. 

I suspect, David, that if you lived in a state headed by someone from a non-Christian religion - for example, if your governor were an observant, orthodox Muslim, you might protest if that governor began to base legislative decisions on sharia law.

All should regularly thank God for the religious freedoms enjoyed in this country, and that religious politicians are wise enough not to confuse their individual religious beliefs with their responsibilities to the entire electorate, who are all religions, and none. 

Beth, your observation that many Catholics (and other religious people) now understand that they must try to discern which religious leaders are worthy of following and which are not is an excellent point.


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