A Roman Catholic candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates has been removed from a leadership position in his Prince George's County parish because he supports abortion rights, the second such incident in the state within a month.
David M. Valderrama, a Democrat from Fort Washington, said the pastor of St. Columba Catholic Church in Oxon Hill informed him Saturday that he could no longer serve as a lector, a lay person who reads Scripture during services.
The action was prompted by campaign literature that identified Valderrama as a member of St. Columba and stated that he was part of a slate of candidates who support "reproductive choice for all women."
The priest, the Rev. Walter L. Lawrence, said yesterday he could not reconcile Valderrama's stand on abortion with the church's teaching.
"To proclaim the word of God, the church says you first must accept the word of God," Lawrence said. "I asked him that for the good of the congregation if he would consider stepping down as a lector."
Valderrama, 57, a member of the parish for 18 years and a leader of the Filipino-American community, said he resigned under protest. Saying he opposes abortion, Valderrama added that he would not impose those beliefs on others.
"I find myself between heaven and hell," said Valderrama, a former Orphans' Court judge who is one of 10 Democrats in District 26 vying for three seats in the House in the Sept. 11 primary. "Here's my church applying sanctions on me because of my God-inspired beliefs."
In early July, a House candidate from Montgomery County, John A. Hurson, was removed from the parish council at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bethesda because he supports a woman's right to choose an abortion.
Several abortion-rights candidates in state House and Senate races this year are Catholics, but a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington said yesterday that Hurson and Valderrama were the only two in the area against whom such action had been taken. In both cases, Eileen Marx said, the parish priests acted within their authority.
Abortion became a significant issue in dozens of legislative races this year in the wake of the General Assembly's inability to reach a consensus during the 1990 session on a law that would guarantee a woman's right to an abortion.
But the issue has been an even more sensitive subject for Roman Catholic political candidates since June, when Cardinal John O'Connor, archbishop of New York, suggested that Catholic officeholders who support the right to abortion could be excommunicated.
Yesterday, Lawrence said parishioners had approached him and pointed out Valderrama's position on the issue. But he said he made the decision after consulting only with the assistant pastor, the Rev. Fidel Deramos.
Although he read about Hurson's case, Lawrence said it "had no bearing on this activity at all." He said no other action is contemplated against Valderrama.
Valderrama said Lawrence asked him not to discuss the incident, but he decided to go public after a "whispering campaign" against him.
"It sounds so political," he added, noting that his base of support in the south Prince George's County district is among heavily Catholic Filipino-Americans.
Catholics for Free Choice said yesterday it knew of two dozen similar incidents around the country since January, including actions against state legislative candidates who support abortion rights.
Another group, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, supported Lawrence's actions.
"The league feels that the right of the church to speak out on moral issues of the day is being challenged here," said Thomas F. Troy, of Bethesda, president of the group's Washington chapter.