Legislator: 'The Catholic bishops are often laughed at'

Recently, I was part of a discussion group with progressive Catholics who care a lot about their church. One of them was a member of the Maryland State Legislature.

After we adjourned our general discussion and began milling around before departure, I went up to him, inquiring about the recent votes in the Maryland legislature on a bill that would have legalized same sex marriage.

Unfortunately, the bill is dead for this year. It passed the Senate, but was tabled in the House -- even though we have solid Democratic majorities in both chambers and Governor Martin O’Malley was ready to sign it.

I thanked the legislator for his vote in favor of this bill, and then sought to confirm my analysis as to why the bill failed to pass. I asked if he shared my view that the defeat of the bill was largely due to the lobbying of African-American ministers in Prince Georges County in the suburbs of Washington, DC, rather than the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Both were opposed to the legislation, and both lobbied hard.

He confirmed my analysis: the African-American ministers influenced key house members because they are highly respected and have sizeable followings in their congregations.

Then, out of the blue, he added: “You know, behind the scenes in legislatures, the Catholic bishops are often laughed at. They’ve lost most of their credibility because of the sex abuse scandal. It’s sad but true.”

I was not surprised; I had suspected as much for a long time. But it’s also sad.

We Catholics may not agree with all the bishops’ legislative positions; I certainly don’t. But when it comes to issues like immigration or the rights of labor unions or the welfare of the poor, we need their voices and their credibility.

It’s one more reason for the bishops to take this newest Philadelphia crisis seriously and clean house immediately.

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