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Duncan's Faith May Not Follow Church

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page GZ02

Since the death of Pope John Paul II this month, much has been written about the status of Catholicism in the United States and around the world.

While describing U.S. Catholics, some commentators have been throwing around the phrase "cafeteria Catholics," a description of Catholics who practice their faith even while disagreeing with some of the church's teachings and social positions.


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In other words, those Catholics pick and chose which church doctrines they want to follow. County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) appears to fit that definition.

Since he first ran for county executive in 1994, Duncan has talked openly about his faith. He even used it to insulate himself from his rivals' attacks on his decision to send his children to parochial school. Duncan said at the time that he and his wife made a "religious choice" to send their children to parochial schools.

After the pope's death, Duncan attended a handful of local religious services honoring the pontiff. In several cases, his scheduled appearances at the church services were advertised to reporters.

But when it comes to the issue of embryonic stem cell research, Duncan has made a clear split from the church's teachings.

On Monday, Duncan appeared at a news conference in Annapolis urging the General Assembly to approve a bill for state support of embryonic stem cell research. The bill, which passed the House of Delegates but was never brought up for a vote in the Senate, was strongly opposed by the influential Maryland Catholic Conference.

"It's clear we need to do a better job of explaining this complex issue to politicians. We need to help them understand what seems to be popular is not always right," said Gina Maclean, communications officer for the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Duncan and his potential rival for the Democratic nomination for governor, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is also Catholic, joined together in Annapolis in front of reporters to urge the Senate to bring the bill up for a vote during the final hours of the legislative session.

Duncan said the measure would boost the state's image as a leader in medical research while giving hope to residents with debilitating diseases.

When asked later how he justified his position since he is Catholic, Duncan offered a gingerly worded response. He said the bill did not conflict with his beliefs because no human embryos would be destroyed if the bill were approved.

"We are not creating these to be used for research," Duncan said. "It's using ones that have been thrown away, and that's a very responsible position, and the bill in its final form is a very responsible bill."

Duncan's positions on several other controversial issues also differ from the Catholic Church's teachings. Duncan is an abortion rights supporter and backs the use of the death penalty in certain instances.

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