A member of the Maryland House of Delegates is facing calls for her resignation for her failure to report allegations that her husband molested a young relative.

Del. Joan Cadden's husband, Raymond A. Cadden Sr., 60, was convicted June 19 on charges of child abuse and third-degree sex offenses and faces 15 years in prison. Four years earlier, the child told her father about the abuse, but after a solemn family conference that included Joan Cadden and her husband, they all agreed to bottle up the matter so it would not harm Cadden's blossoming political career.

"The solution we reached at that time was if I went to counseling, we could work it out," Raymond Cadden later told a judge. "I did it for the family. Joan is a politician, and I was trying to protect her."

That solution didn't work. Last December, the girl told her doctor of the abuse and he reported it to authorities. Now 18, she took the stand in an Anne Arundel County courtroom two weeks ago and repeated her account of how the middle-aged man slipped his hand under her favorite party dress when she was 6, and how on other occasions until she turned 11, he fondled her while they were alone in the basement.

The Washington Post normally does not identify the victims of sex crimes.

Political opponents of Cadden who learned about the case after the trial seized on the fact that she let her political career enter the equation when deciding how to handle her young relative's complaints.

"Our concern is over the lack of effort to protect this child, who was the victim of some terrible behavior," said Michael Steele, chairman of the state Republican Party. "When you hear family members say they were trying to protect the delegate's political career, that they turned a blind eye to the abuse because of political considerations, it gives you pause."

The case has, by all accounts, upended one of the county's most active political families: For Raymond Cadden, once the president of a powerful north county Democratic club, the conviction has brought humiliation and the threat of jail time when he is sentenced Aug. 6. For Joan Cadden, 59, who put aside her beauty salon 11 years ago to pursue politics, the burst of publicity has left her homebound as she ponders how to respond to calls for her resignation.

Through friends, Cadden declined several requests for an interview. She has not explained her role in the family's decision to keep quiet about the abuse. But during the trial she testified that her husband of 40 years was never alone with the child and therefore could not have been guilty.

Since then, Cadden's constituents have rallied around her. Dozens of well-wishers stopped by her house last week to offer support. And at the Lake Shore Democratic Club, where scores gathered over hot dogs and tubs of beer to hear political speeches Wednesday night, every mention of her name brought a thunderous response.

Many at the club bristled at the call for her resignation, viewing it as a crass attempt to politicize a private tragedy. Mention of the case at all, they say, tramples the line that should divide a politician's public life from the private one.

"She does a great job, she's a great leader, and this is her own, personal business," said A. Shirley Murphy, a Democratic County Council member who represents Brooklyn Park. "The public has no place discussing it."

Cadden served five years on the county school board, then launched a long-shot bid for the House of Delegates in 1990 and wound up leading the ticket.

"She had her daughters, her grandchildren, her sisters all out there with her," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno (D), who represents the same district. "It was like her own, built-in army of campaign workers."

About the same time, according to court testimony, Cadden's husband was drinking heavily. In 1989, he found himself alone in the basement of his house with the young relative, and as the two watched television he began to touch her, according to her testimony. There were other uncomfortable encounters as well, she said, but the only other one she could remember in detail took place in 1994, when he slipped his hand into her blue jeans.

In 1997, the girl, then 14, told her father about the abuse, and he immediately drove to the Northern District police station in nearby Pasadena.

"I was so extremely upset . . . . I wanted to press charges," he testified last week. "But I talked with a police officer . . . and I decided not to. I didn't report the information because I wasn't quite sure about how it would affect my daughter, and also because I knew that, Joan Cadden being the delegate, I knew that it would probably be a pretty bad move because of publicity."

It was the young girl's battle with an eating disorder that eventually revived her allegations during a visit last year to her pediatrician, who was required by law to report her claims to authorities.

After speaking with the girl and her parents, Anne Arundel Police Detective Jack Hartzell called Raymond Cadden to his office to discuss the matter.

"He said he'd been a whiskey drinker, that [the encounters] could have happened, but he didn't remember," Hartzell testified. "I asked him if he wanted to write an apology letter. I gave him a pad of paper and a pen, [and] I left the room for 15 minutes."

Cadden wrote two sentences to the girl: "I'm sorry for the problems I caused you. I hope you will forgive me."

Later, he said the letter was not an admission. Rather, he said, it was attempt to make peace in the family.

The case escaped public notice when Cadden was indicted by a grand jury in February. His arrest warrant was held under seal and never made public because it was immediately transferred to a special prosecutor from Baltimore County. Because of the Caddens' political involvement, retired Special Appeals Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. was brought in to hear the case.

The day of Raymond Cadden's conviction, though, word of the case quickly began to circulate through the ballroom at Michael's 8th Avenue, a frequent political gathering spot in blue-collar Glen Burnie, where County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) was holding a campaign fundraiser.

"I just think the vast majority of people hope that the Cadden family can come together and move on from this," said Del. Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).

Local Republicans were also hotly discussing the case.

Cadden, who has for a decade been a vigorous campaigner and who used her clout on the House Appropriations Committee to help bring such projects as the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts and Brooklyn Park Middle School into the district, was suddenly vulnerable.

Anne Arundel's Republican Central Committee chairman, Robert Costa, called fellow members to gauge whether the party should speak out. William Gillette, one of those Costa consulted, agreed that Cadden's decision to withhold any report of the abuse from authorities was "unconscionable."

"My sense is she did wrong, and this was potentially a disastrous situation for her," Gillette said. "I suggested maybe we would wait to the election and see if she wanted to run again, then decide what to say about it."

But Costa opted instead to release a statement to the media immediately, calling for Cadden to resign.

"If Delegate Cadden was a Republican, I'd still ask her to resign," he said. "Elected officials have to hold themselves up a little higher."

Costa said he has heard widely from people who supported the decision. But at the Stoney Creek Democratic Club on Wednesday, one friend of Cadden's said it was "the political equivalent of bombing Pearl Harbor. We won't ever forget it."

Another person who deeply resented the long-predicted ripple effect that Raymond Cadden's behavior is having on his wife's political career is the victim's mother -- even though she believes her daughter's claim.

"I think people were afraid this would happen to [Joan], and it's sad that it has," she said. "What happens within a family should stay within the family."

Del. Joan Cadden (D-Anne Arundel) has been criticized by Republicans for not disclosing a relative's 1997 accusations against her husband.