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Thousands of Connecticut Catholics turned out at the state Capitol to protest Senate Bill 1098, now tabled, which was aimed at removing bishops and pastors from financial oversight of parishes.
BY Sue Ellin BrowderREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
HARTFORD, Conn. — A Connecticut
state bill attacking the structure of the Church ignited such a firestorm in
early March that the bill was tabled — for now.
The bill would have amended the
state’s Religious Corporations Act to require Catholic parishes to have lay
councils of seven to 13 people. The councils would oversee the finances of
local parishes, giving pastors and bishops an advisory role but no vote.
The law would not restrict bishops
and pastors “in matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and
practices,” however. (See editorial, page 8, for
examples of Connecticut tampering with religious practices.)
According to news reports, the
legislation grew out of the concerns of Greenwich, Conn., attorney Thomas
Gallagher and other Connecticut Catholics in the wake of the clerical sexual
abuse scandal and a couple of high-profile cases of embezzlement of parish
In a 2007 National
Catholic Reporter article, Gallagher proposed parish reform in which
lay people have a greater role.
But at a press conference in
Hartford March 10, he said the legislation did not match his proposal, since it
gave bishops and pastors no voting role on administrative and financial
Paul Lakeland, chairman of the
Catholic Studies Institute at Jesuit-run Fairfield University in Connecticut,
accompanied Gallagher at the press conference, which took place after the
Judiciary Committee hearing was canceled. Both men are affiliated with Voice of
the Faithful, a group of Catholics that formed in the wake of the 2002 clerical
sexual abuse revelations.
The cancellation of public hearings
by the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee promises to be only the end of
round one in a long fight.
The bill has yet to be withdrawn.
The bishop of Bridgeport, Bishop William Lori, went as far as saying that the
intention of the bill was “to dismantle the Church as best they can.”
Question of Timing
The Church restructuring bill, S.B.
1098, was quietly introduced March 5, and many say the timing was no
coincidence. It was introduced just one day before Judiciary Committee hearings
on Same-Sex “Marriage” Bill, S.B. 899 — a bill which, if enacted as written,
could lead to a mandate requiring Connecticut schools to teach homosexual acts
as moral and same-sex “marriage” as normal.
“This is a thinly veiled attempt to
silence the Church on important issues of the day, but especially with regard
to marriage,” Bishop Lori said.
Despite being given a scant weekend
and two working days notice to respond to the bill in public hearings,
Connecticut bishops vigorously rose to the challenge.
In a letter read at Sunday Masses
throughout the archdiocese, Hartford Archbishop Henry Mansell said, “This bill
violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Catholics were rapidly mobilized on
an emergency basis to head for Hartford to offer testimony on March 11.
Although the Judiciary Committee hearing was canceled, the Church organized a
rally outside the state Capitol that drew about 5,000 people.
In an address to school principals
in his diocese, Bishop Lori explained, “If this bill were enacted, your bishop
would have virtually no relationship with the 87 parishes [in the Diocese of
Bridgeport]. They could go off independently. Some of them could break off from
the Church, if they wished, and go their own way, as happened, for example,
with the Episcopal Church. And the
pastors would be figureheads, simply working for a board of trustees.”
“You have to understand how
radically this departs from the teaching of the Church and the discipline of
the Church and how gravely unconstitutional it is for a state to move in and to
try to reorganize the internal structure of a church,” Bishop Lori stated. “It
is a grave violation of religious liberty.”
Although the bill specifically
targets the Catholic Church, Connecticut Rep. T.R. Rowe noted that once one
church is attacked, all churches have “reason to worry” about who might be
next. “They’ve chosen the biggest target of all because, unfortunately, quite
often, the only bigotry allowed is anti-Catholic bigotry,” said Rowe, a
Judiciary Committee member.
The proposed legislation received
national attention. Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus,
wrote in an editorial in Stamford’s The Advocate that
although its immediate target is the Catholic Church the bill “poses a danger
to all religions.”
In a statement “What Happens in
Connecticut Matters Here,” Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput said, “The
legislative coercion directed against the Catholic community in one state has
implications for Catholics in every other state. If bigots in one state succeed in coercive
laws like S.B. 1098, bigots in other states will try the same.”
Calling S.B. 1098 “imprudent,”
“unjust” and “contemptuous of the right of the Catholic Church to be who she is
as a public entity,” Archbishop Chaput wrote, “If Catholics want Caesar telling
them how they’re allowed to live their civil life as a community, this is
exactly the kind of legislation to make it happen.”
Kevin Hasson of the Becket Fund for
Religious Liberty called the bill “truly a monstrosity.”
In a joint press release, the
Democratic cochairmen of the Judiciary Committee — same-sex “marriage”
advocates Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, and Sen. Andrew McDonald,
D-Stamford, — tried to distance themselves from the intense explosion the bill
had set off.
“It has been incorrectly
characterized that this legislation originated from the two of us as an attack
on the Church and freedom of religion,” Lawlor and McDonald stated. “That is
not the truth, and the facts do not support such a claim.”
Gallagher told the New
Haven Register, “This bill is incredibly respectful of the Catholic
faith. This is a pro-priest proposal that spreads the legal responsibility for
a parish with lay members rather than putting it on the shoulders of one person
Its backers say they only wanted to
prevent financial mismanagement of parishes, to prevent embezzling of funds,
and to make the Church more “accountable.”
But Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North
Branford, observed that the state already has statutes to handle embezzlers.
“This overreaches and is so offensive to the separation of church and state;
I’m concerned that there is something a little diabolical about it,” Candelora
Bishop Lori pointed out the irony of
the state of Connecticut alleging that new laws are necessary because the
Church cannot manage her own financial house.
“We have a high degree of
accountability and very careful management of our parishes and the diocese as a
whole,” Bishop Lori said. “By contrast, the state of Connecticut cannot close
in this fiscal year alone a $1 billion deficit. And the story will never be
told of the waste and corruption that exists in the government of Connecticut.”
Lawlor and McDonald are
contemplating a forum in which the Legislature would look at all religious
corporate statutes back to 1866 to see if they’re constitutional.
But Candelora warned, “If those laws
are repealed, the Catholic Church in Connecticut would not have the ability to
exist under a corporate structure.”
“Quite frankly, examining those
statutes for their constitutionality is not a role for the Legislature,”
Candelora said. “So now we’ve gone from interfering with free exercise of
religion to trying to take up the role of the judicial branch.”
According to constitutional attorney
Philip Lacovara, who served as counsel to the Watergate special prosecutor and
has argued 18 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, “Politically, the
Legislature is not going to repeal all of these statutes, because there are
simply too many churches and denominations that have relied on them over more
than a century to organize their civil affairs (for example, acquiring property
and transferring real estate, entering into contracts, etc.).”
Lacovara added, “The original
counter-attack that I heard discussed — just repealing the statutes applicable
to the Catholic Church — would be unconstitutional and on its face
Connecticut Attorney General Richard
Blumenthal declined to discuss his views on state laws pertaining to the Church. But his media spokesperson referred the
Register to a story in which Blumenthal was quoted as saying he had his doubts
about the constitutional propriety of the existing “framework” of laws that
govern the incorporation of Catholic organizations and date back to the
mid-1800s. That’s when the bishop of Hartford and parishes were given the legal
right to incorporate.
Bishop Lori said that Catholics
should “recognize that bills like this come up again and again and again. So we
should really proceed to put into place all the protections that we can.”
The Church’s battles in Connecticut
are far from over. The Same-Sex “Marriage” Bill, which would codify the state
Supreme Court ruling last year allowing same-sex “marriage,” continues to lurk
mostly under the public’s radar. “Our opponents are master strategists,” said
Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut.
“They’re really good at knowing how to distract an opponent. I think that’s at least part of what’s going
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