Roman holiday

October 09, 2003

THE CITY'S Board of Estimates picked up the tab yesterday for Councilwoman Agnes Welch's nine-day pilgrimage to Rome next week.

The unanimous action doesn't make it right. She was out of line to ask the city to cover her trip to ceremonies marking Pope John Paul II's 25th anniversary as the head of the Catholic Church; the board never should have agreed.

At issue is not the money, although $2,479 could be better spent, for example, on much-needed equipment for rundown recreation centers. The matter is one of principle: Why should this impoverished city finance Mrs. Welch's private religious observances, which have nothing to do with Baltimore or its awesome problems?

"This pilgrimage of faith is considered a local treasure and resource to the community and the city," said a request from the mayor's office to the Board of Estimates. "Councilwoman Welch will represent the city at the ceremony in Rome." Balderdash.

In 1994, she was among city representatives attending Archbishop William H. Keeler's elevation to cardinal in Rome: That, at least, was official. This time, her journey is a personal religious mission, regardless of whether she carries a symbolic gift and the city's best wishes to the pope.

Taxpayers shouldn't pay for it.

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