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.



  • Bill

    Did the readers see the headline in the NY Times this morning? “Hell truly exists and many people go there for eternity.”

    Would everyone really like to see these silly arguments ended? Just have the Vatican do what it was supposed to do in 1960-release the entire Third Secret of Fatima. In July, 1917, three children saw into Hell and they told the world it existed and poor souls go there. If Cuomo and O’Malley believed for a moment that a horrible fate awaited them AND EVERY OTHER CATHOLIC, the dynamic would change immediately.

  • russell

    The good archbishop need not make the point of ensuring all his opinions are shouted loudly enough to be heard at the Vatican… he’ll get his red had soon enough, regardless.



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