Archbishop James E. Hickey of Washington today delivered a strongly worded defense of the Roman Catholic church's involvement in politics to a group of local legislators and promised that the church will actively lobby on "moral issues" at the General Assembly session.
He also took care to disassociate his own lobbying efforts from those of the Moral Majority organization, which recently opened an office near the statehouse and announced plans for an aggressive legislative campaign that will include the "targeting" of legislators who oppose them.
Hickey, the first head of the Washington archdiocese to visit the legislature, spoke at a luncheon meeting attended by Lt. Gov. Samuel W. Bogley, Senate President James Clark and about two dozen delegates and senators from suburban Washington. His visit is part of a stepped up lobbying effort at the legislature by the organized Catholic church in the last two years. A lobbying office was opened in Annapolis during the 1979 session and this year two lobbyists have been working full-time on General Assembly issues.
Baltimore Archbishop William Borders came to Annapolis last session to meet with Baltimore area legislators and has a similar breakfast meeting scheduled next week. Eastern Shore legislators are expected to meet with Wilmington Archbishop Thomas Mardaga, whose diocese includes their area, according to church lobbyists.
"Surely it is a distortion of the principle of the separation of church and state to hold that a religious leader can not speak on issues," Hickey said. "It is not only his right but his duty to point out their moral implications." "
"From time to time my fellow Maryland bishops and myself hope to offer you our views, the views of the citizens you represent, views of our best moral understanding of the implications of events and projects," he said. "We hope to do so in keeping with the healthy political traditions of our country."
Asked if the Catholic church's political acitivities in Annapolis would be connected to those of the Moral Majority, the Archbishop responded by offering an oblique criticism of the group's tactics.
"We feel that there are many vital issues with which we address legislators and with which we evaluate candidates," he said."We are not a one-issue group. We do realize the importance of concentrating on one issue from time to time but as we evaluate legislators and as we evaluate their work on behalf of the state we naturally look at the whole sum and substance of their legislative position."
Hickey said the church will be sending legislators a "position statement in which we set forth our thoughts, our convictions with regard to the unborn, poor and those in prison. In such a position paper we see a consistency with the principle of fostering life at every stage and of every person."
"There are those who would object to a religious leader's statements and activities on the grounds that a particular religious group is imposing its views on others," Hickey said. "That of course is a buzz phrase, a sort of statement that stirs emotion but offers little to clarify the discussion."
Frank McIntyre, the church's chief lobbyist, said after the luncheon meeting that Catholic bishops feel "the time is very ripe" to work for restrictions on state abortion funding -- a perennial issue in the legislature -- because of the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding federal "Hyde amendment" restrictions on abortions thar are far more conservative than Maryland's.
McIntyre said the church also will push to obtain greater state funding for welfare and other social programs that it feels may be threatened by the austere budget promised by Gov. Harry Hughes.