Sen. Alex X. Mooney fielded a surprise call this week from Cardinal William H. Keeler, who urged the Frederick Republican to vote today for a repeal of the death penalty.
Their five-minute chat, though notable because of the caller's position as archbishop of Baltimore, is one of many conversations Mooney has had as he considers his position on a bill to get rid of the state's capital punishment law.
The conservative Catholic talked recently with an African Methodist Episcopal church leader from his hometown and also dined for three hours Tuesday evening in Bowie with former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a one-time seminarian who opposes capital punishment.
Mooney also has perused books and articles for guidance. The latest piece was by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic who supports the death penalty. "He came down in favor of the death penalty," Mooney said of Scalia. "I'd like to run that by the cardinal."
In 2005, Keeler visited death row inmate Wesley Eugene Baker and urged then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to commute his death sentence. Ehrlich declined to intervene, and Baker was executed.
An archdiocese spokesman could not be reached yesterday about Keeler's call to the senator.
The 11-member Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is scheduled to vote today on the bill, and Mooney appears to be the swing vote. He said he expects to introduce three amendments that would make exceptions for terrorists, cop killers and in cases when a prisoner kills again behind bars.
Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat and the repeal's sponsor, told The Sun this week that she would rather withdraw the bill than accept amendments. Mooney shrugged that off yesterday, noting that other committee members might be open to his suggestions.
Mooney said his talk with Keeler was "great," adding, "He just tried to explain to me his position, asked me to vote for the repeal.".
Mooney, a father of two, said he is aware of where the church stands on the issue. He said yesterday that he was trying to be open-minded but that he hadn't yet decided.
"I wish I didn't have to vote tomorrow," Mooney said. "I wish I had more time."