Gov. Martin O'Malley, who continues to campaign for same-sex marriage in advance of a likely referendum aimed at overturning the law he signed this month, will speak Friday at a conference in Baltimore for gay and lesbian Catholics.
Also scheduled to appear at the conference organized by the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry are Barbara Johnson, who was denied Communion at her mother's funeral Mass in Gaithersburg last month because she is a lesbian; former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has written a book critical of church involvement in politics; and Geoffery Robinson, a retired Catholic bishop from Australia.
"Across the country, Catholics are facing the issues of marriage equality, bullying, whether or not lesbian and gay people can work in church institutions," Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said Wednesday. "All of these items need further discussion in the church, and people are eager to discuss them."
The Mount Rainier-based organization, which supported Maryland's new same-sex marriage law, has long drawn the censure of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, the archbishop of Baltimore, issued a statement this week warning that "in no manner is the position proposed by New Ways Ministry in conformity with Catholic teaching," nor is the organization authorized to identify itself as a Catholic organization or to speak for the church.
He declined through a spokesman to comment further.
O'Brien and O'Malley, who is Catholic, have sparred publicly over same-sex marriage. Aides to the governor confirmed Wednesday that he would make remarks at the conference, which is scheduled to run from Thursday through Saturday at the Renaissance Inner Harbor Hotel, but said there would be no further comment.
O'Malley championed the legislation that made Maryland the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Opponents plan to gather signatures to suspend the law, put it on the November ballot and let voters have the final say.
Johnson drew national attention last month when she said that a priest at her mother's funeral refused to give her Communion at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg because she lives with another woman.
The Archdiocese of Washington, which includes the District of Columbia and its Maryland suburbs, has apologized to Johnson and placed the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo on administrative leave pending an investigation into allegations of "intimidating behavior" that is "incompatible with proper priestly ministry."
Townsend is the author of "Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way." Robinson has written "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus."
New Ways Ministry, founded in 1977 by a priest and a nun, describes itself as "a national Catholic education ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT Catholics and the wider church and civil communities."
DeBernardo says support among churchgoing Catholics for lesbian and gay church members is growing. He predicts that the issue will go the way of artificial birth control, which is prohibited by the church but practiced widely by Catholics.
"The Catholic people are supporting lesbian and gay issues not in spite of their faith but because of their faith," he said. "Catholic laypeople see this is an issue of human dignity, of justice, of equality.
"The statistics keep showing that the next generation is far more supportive than previous generations. I think that the bishops have to start realizing that these are not dissenters of the Catholic faith. These are solid Catholic people."
twitter.com/matthewhaybrownCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun