Updated: Abp. O’Brien Sent Letters to Maryland’s Catholic Governor O’Malley Urging Him Not To Endorse SSM

UPDATE — Here are the letters I was looking for:


Over the weekend Catholic Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley released private letters he had exchanged with Archbishop of Baltimore Edwin O’Brien over the issue of same-sex marriage (an effort to pass same-sex marriage in Maryland earlier this year failed because it lacked the votes, now O’Malley has signed on to a renewed effort to redefine marriage in the next legislative session).

An important part of the backstory here is that Gov. O’Brien probably feels encouraged by the adulation heaped on Catholic governor Andrew Cuomo of New York after he ignored the Catholic bishops to push same-sex marriage into law there.

There’s a lesson here: when one Catholic governor gets away with ignoring the warnings of his bishops, other Catholic governors and elected officials feel emboldened to do the same.

Anyway, Archbishop O’Brien is intent to avoid the same result happening in Maryland.

I’m searching for the original letters exchanged between O’Malley and O’Brien. In the meantime, here is what’s filtered through the press:

Two days before Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) announced plans to sponsor a same-sex marriage bill, a Catholic archbishop strongly urged that he reconsider the move, suggesting the governor was acting out of “mere political expediency.”

Edwin F. O’Brien, the archbishop of Baltimore, said in a letter late last month that sponsoring the bill would “deeply conflict” with O’Malley’s Catholic faith and that he should resist pressure to do so after New York’s recent legalization of same-sex marriage.

“Maryland is not New York,” O’Brien wrote. “We urge you not to allow your role as the leader of our state to be used in allowing the debate surrounding the definition of marriage to be determined by mere political expediency. The people of Maryland deserve no less.”

O’Malley responded to O’Brien on Thursday, citing a litany of issues on which he shares the church’s views. But, O’Malley wrote, “when shortcomings in our laws bring about a result that is unjust, I have a public obligation to try to change that injustice.”


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.”

A sample of Gov. O’Malley’s response:

“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.”

Right now I’m relying on what the Washington Post found most interesting to copy. I’m sure I would probably highlight different parts of the letters.

I think O’Malley’s line about “never presuming … to preach about or administer the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church” is particularly revealing.” The issue, after all, isn’t who wears a miter vs. who was elected governor. The issue is the pre-political institution of the family, and the right of the Church to defend the family when it comes under attack in the public square. Natural law, in other words, not theology.

I also doubt O’Malley realizes that being personally warned about why he should not attack the family by redefining marriage could also serve as a necessary precursor to canonical penalties since he has chosen to ignore the advice and firm admonition of his Archbishop.

I also find it fascinating that Governor O’Malley chose to release these letters. Abp. O’Brien was performing a courtesy by keeping the correspondence private. Now that O’Malley has chosen to bring the public in on the conversation, I wonder how Abp. O’Brien will respond.

UPDATE — forgot to include this factoid: O’Malley “often attends weekday Masses” according to WaPo.



  • Pax 0mnibus


    Please accept my apologies. When I commented about his daily reception of the Eucharist, I didn’t realize you had already covered that question.

    I should read the other comments before jumping in the conversations.

  • Pax 0mnibus

    The key question you should investigate is whether Governor O’Malley is allowed to receive communion each day. A daily exclusion might be just the medicine he needs and a comfort to all the canonical Roman Catholics attending that mass.

  • Lucy

    Seems like the Governor and the Archbishop were able to experience their freedom to uphold what they feel are just and ethical and voice their opinions. If the Catholic Church chooses to “punish” the Governor in some way, that is their right also. Looks like freedom of speech and freedom of religion were upheld in Maryland. Bravo!
    To quote you Tom,”the issue is the pre-political institution of the family.” So what?

  • MichaelL

    @Thomas. A few things that may be of interest to you. Archbishop O’Brien in a Catholic Review article dated July 28 let it be known publicly that he had written to Governor O’Malley on the issue of the redefinition of marriage. ( http://archbalt.org/about-us/the-archbishop/articles/no-time-to-abandon-conviction.cfm ) The Archbishop suggests that O’Malley changed his position on marriage because of the results of a Washington Post poll. In response to the Governor’s statement that this is a question of “human rights” the Archbishop states, “There are many ways of protecting basic human rights; sacrificing marriage isn’t one of them.” According to the Washington Post the letters were released “in response to media requests”. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/omalley-archbishop-at-odds-over-same-sex-marriage-letters-show/2011/08/08/gIQA4vR02I_story.html ) Also, the Post reports that O’Malley “often attends weekday Masses”. So the whole issue of refusing Communion to politicians who actively oppose core Church teachings may come to a head in Maryland. Let’s all say a prayer for Archbishop O’Brien, and may he continue to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

  • Tom

    “Discrimination is wrong. I can’t wait to see marriage equality win in Maryland.”

    Yes. Discrimination is wrong. Up with equality! Down with discrimination!

    In fact, on behalf of all non-triangular shapes, I’m launching the Campaign for Shape Equality. It’s very hurtful for triangles to insist that they are the only shapes that are plane figures with three straight sides and three angles. Frankly, it is offensive and stems from nothing other than shape-phobia! Squares, rectangles, circles and other shapes have a right to the same recognition currently restricted to triangles!

    Seriously. Enough of the nonsensical terms like “marriage equality.” Let’s talk about what marriage is, rather than throwing around catch phrases.

    Marriage has an essence, just as a triangle has an essence. Marriage is a permanent, faithful and exclusive conjugal union between one man and one woman for the good of spouses and with openness to the generation and education of children. That’s its essence; it requires the conjugal union of maleness and femaleness.

    Just as a four-sided shape can’t be a triangle, so two women can’t make a marriage, nor can two men, more than two people, or people who go into it consciously intending that their relationship will something other than permanent, faithful, exclusive, for the good of the spouses, or open to the generation and education of the children that may come from the union. Those relationships may be something else–marriage knock-offs, if you will–but they’re not marriage.

  • MichaelL

    Baltimore — which is by far the biggest city in Maryland — has always been known as a religious city. There’s hardly a street corner without a church, large or small, on it. For a large city Baltimore is relatively conservative. So “homosexual marriage” is not an easy sell there. As Archbishop O’Brien states in his letter to the Governor, “Maryland is not New York”. Much of the opposition has come from African-American church leaders. There is also a large and growing Hispanic community in the Washington suburbs including many Catholics. And again, Hispanics tend to be more conservative and reject the idea of redefining marriage. I hope that Archbishop O’Brien is able to work with the leaders of other Christian denominations to defeat this effort in Maryland. One last thought. Maryland was founded as a Catholic colony. It is named after Our Lady. St. Mary, Queen of Heaven, pray for us. ***Tom. Here are links to the letters: http://www.governor.maryland.gov/blog/?p=1498



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