Baltimore Archbishop William D. Borders, the outspoken head of Catholic Church in Maryland, today strongly denounced proposals to relax the state's divorce laws as weakening "the family structure" and leading to "no-fault divorce."
At a breakfast meeting with about two dozen legislators, Borders saved his strongest attack for Reaganomics and the effect of federal cutbacks on Maryland's poor. But while prodding the legislators to hold the liberal line in restoring social service benefits, Borders held true to traditional Catholic positions on the family issues, divorce and abortion.
Borders also gave the lawmakers the official church position on a variety of pending bills. He advocated a return to the 21-year-old drinking age, backed stiffer handgun laws, supported any laws that would limit the number of abortions performed in the state, and urged the legislators to keep politics out of their redistricting battles.
The archbishop said he supported a pending bill to return prayer or meditation to the public schools, but criticized a bill to require the teaching of creationism in public schools. "I would disagree with anyone who would say that creationism is a science, or that God literally created the world in seven days," Borders said.
Borders said he opposed recommendations of the governor's commission on domestic relations law, which earlier this month proposed to shorten the time period that couples must live apart before the spouse who leaves can seek a divorce. The commission suggested shortening the current three year wait to one year.
The commission's recommendations have yet to be forwarded to Hughes. If Hughes does not support the changes, they would be introduced anyway by the legislators who served on the commission, said Sen. Joseph Curran, (D-Baltimore), a commission member who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Borders asked the legislators to vote against the divorce reforms because, "All of you are family people. You know the pain caused by divorce. Why then is legislation being introduced that would make it easier to get a divorce? Every time divorce is made easier, the family structures in our society are weakened."
Border's remarks were his first public comments on the divorce recommendations, a politically explosive set of proposals touching on other sensitive issues like altering child custody laws and relaxing the ban on sex during marital separations.
Border's appearance here represents part of the Catholic Church's stepped-up lobbying role in state affairs over the last few years, particularly on social welfare issues. Catholic Charities, a church advocacy group for the poor, lobbied hard to get Hughes to increase monthly welfare grants and to maintain about 3,000 working poor families on welfare rolls at state expense.
Maryland's population is one-fifth Catholic, according to the Baltimore archdiocese. But the church's influence may be more limited.
"His position is trying to make marriage more permanent," Curran, a Catholic, said of Borders. "That's a laudable goal. But the commission has taken a look at some of the realities of domestic conflict. The impression religious upbringing has on the delegates is obvious. However , I would like to think we separate our private life from what we perceive as the public good."