AUGUSTA, Maine — Bishop Richard J. Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, thanked lawmakers Tuesday for their service at an annual reception held in their honor.
Malone also explained why the church takes positions and lobbies on political issues, but he did not urge legislators to support any particular bills or initiatives.
“People of faith would be remiss in our duty were we to remain silent in this regard,” Malone said at the event, held at the Governor Hill Mansion, not far from the State House. “Religion is not simply a private, personal thing, as some would argue. The church is not a political party, nor do we ever endorse political parties or candidates for office. Our role is to inform public debate about the universal truths and principles of a just and compassionate society.
“The principles that the church proposes and defends in public life are not strictly religious principles known only through divine revelation — Scripture — but are derived from natural law, which can be known by right reason,” he continued. “These natural law principles can be discussed by all people of good will who are open to rational discourse and truth. And the conviction that there are, in fact, absolute unchanging truths, knowable by reason, makes the public conversation more substantial and certainly more interesting.”
Only about a dozen legislators were able to attend the reception. Party caucuses were being held at the same time as a behind-the-scenes attempt to hammer out a budget compromise that could be supported on both sides of the aisle and by the governor.
Some of those who showed up, including Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, attend every year. Others, such as Rep. Stacey K. Guerin, R-Glenburn, had never attended.
“I’m a Catholic, so I’m here to show respect to the bishop,” Hobbins said. “I think it’s important for the church, like other groups, be able to explain its position. It’s true that some of the issues the church advocates for and against are galvanizing but they also lobby for social justice issues.”
The diocese opposed a bill that would prevent workers at the former DeCoster egg farms from unionizing. The bill passed Tuesday in the House along party lines. The church also has opposed Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to remove an estimated 65,000 Mainers from government-funded health care.
Marc Mutty, the lobbyist for the diocese who spends his days and some nights in the halls of the State House, said during the reception that much of his time in Augusta over the past four years has been spent working to see that the safety net is maintained for the state’s most vulnerable residents during difficult and unpredictable financial times. The areas of concentration set for him this session are: care for and protection of human life; caring for children and families; and economic justice and fiscal resource allocation.
Guerin said at the reception that she supported the efforts of the diocese to inform lawmakers about issues that are important to Catholics. The representative also said she appreciated the low-key approach Mutty and his associate John S. Martin take.
“They are not intrusive at all,” Guerin said.
As for having faith-based groups lobbying her, the representative said she was fine with that.
“Faith has been a part of the fabric of our society since the founding of the nation,” Guerin said. “There is no need to leave that out. Faith is very important to a lot of our constituents.”