New Maryland Catholic Conference director sees opportunities for collaboration

ANNAPOLIS – Those who work at various state Catholic conferences to educate legislators and the public about issues of concern to the church face similar issues across the country. That experience should help Jenny Kraska, new executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Kraska comes to Maryland from a 12-year stint as executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference. She also served in the past as president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors.

Catholic conferences face some common issues in their states, but also come up against unique topics, depending on the makeup of the state legislature as well as the local political climate.

“What’s wonderful is that we’re able to discuss what’s worked in our states and what didn’t work in terms of strategy, messaging, how we approached issues, who we got to strategize with us and collaborate with us,” Kraska said in an early December interview.

Often the conference directors find that partnering with a local branch of a national organization was successful, and other states can take advantage

of that.

“It’s not always just a church led effort – whether that’s opposing or supporting any particular piece of legislation,” she said. “We are willing to work with anyone, almost, on many issues as long as we agree on the issue in the bill. I think that it’s important to see the diversity in partnerships.”

Legislators may tend to ignore Catholics as a single group, “but if they start seeing the Catholic conference partnered with an association that serves people with disabilities or an association that works to end violence in the city, then they start to think, ‘Maybe those ideas are a little broader than I thought.’ ”

A radio interview with Jenny Kraska follows. Story continues below

That strategy will again be tested in the 2020 session, which runs Jan. 8 to April 6. In addition to a new leader at the MCC, the House of Delegates and the Senate will both have new leadership, respectively, in Speaker Adrienne Jones, (D-Baltimore County), and Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), a parishioner of St. Casimir. Many committees will have new chairpersons, as well.

Proponents of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) are expected to push hard for its passage in Maryland in 2020, and the MCC will partner again with other organizations that oppose it.

Kraska was in Colorado when the state legalized PAS through a ballot measure.

“It’s not something that Maryland wants to see. It’s not a good law. It doesn’t protect people; it doesn’t help people in the process,” she said.

The MCC hopes to educate Catholics and others in the state understand what such a bill would mean for them and their family members.

The state should focus on helping those with a terminal illness alleviate pain and live their best life in whatever time they have left, Kraska said. Instead, PAS tells people that once they are dying, they have no value. In addition, the lethal prescription of pills that patients are given is not a one-size-fits-all prescription, she said, but it “has its own tremendously horrible side effects. You know, it is not a peaceful, happy way to die.”

Among other priorities for the MCC in the session will be: supporting efforts for all employers, with some exemptions for small businesses, to provide paid family leave for employees; supporting efforts to increase or maintain at current levels the funding for the BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) scholarship program that supports low-income students who attend private schools; and stopping an attempt to place on the November 2020 ballot a measure enshrining abortion in the state Constitution.

On the last item, Kraska said there is no need for it, since Maryland is one of the most permissive states when it comes to abortion. “What we should be doing instead is looking at things that we could do to protect women and children, not enshrine something that is already clearly happening already in the state,” she said.


Christopher Gunty

Christopher Gunty

A Chicago-area native, Christopher Gunty is associate publisher/editor of The Catholic Review and CEO of its parent publishing company, The Cathedral Foundation/CR Media.

He has spent his whole professional career in Catholic journalism as a writer, photographer, editor, circulation manager and associate publisher. He spent four years with The Chicago Catholic; 19 years as founding editor and associate publisher of The Catholic Sun in Phoenix, Ariz.; and six years at The Florida Catholic. In July 2009, he came to Baltimore to lead The Cathedral Foundation.

Chris served as president of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada from 1996 to 1998, and has traveled extensively learning about and reporting on the work of the church, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Haiti, Poland, Italy, Germany and finally in 2010 visited the Holy Land for the first time.