Churches Oppose Disclosure

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
November 16, 2005

As the state House of Representatives gets ready to vote on a bill requiring charitable organizations such as churches to file annual financial disclosure statements, local battle lines continued to be drawn yesterday by opponents of the legislation.

A Catholic lay organization that supports the bill yesterday accused the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, the bishop of the Springfield diocese, of passing along misinformation about the bill in letters trying to generate opposition.

The accusation was denied yesterday by a diocesan spokesman.

Meanwhile, a group of Springfield Protestant clergy plan to meet today to discuss their opposition to the bill.

The Rev. Talbert W. Swan, organizer of the meeting, expressed surprise the bill could be voted on as soon as today in the House.

"I'm shocked. The Senate just passed it last week. It makes you wonder why it is being rushed through the House," Swan said.

The Boston Voice of the Faithful several days ago issued a statement about McDonnell's letter to pastors, administrators and parish council chairs that said all parishes would be required by the bill to file an annual report.

The letter urged recipients to voice opposition to legislative leaders. The letter provided legislators' phone numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses.

A spokesman for the bill's author, Sen. Marion Walsh, said only dioceses - not parishes - would be required to file reports.

Springfield diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont disagreed. He said the bill would cost the diocese $1 million.

"That's $1 million we won't be able to use for our charitable works," Dupont said.

John M. Bowen of Longmeadow, the head of the East Longmeadow affiliate of the Voice of the Faithful, hopes McDonnell's letter doesn't influence how legislators vote.

"He is either misinformed or trying to create a panic. I prefer to believe the former," said Bowen.

Dupont said the bill is a violation of the First Amendment and that if the bill passes, the Catholic Church in Massachusetts will join other religious organizations in a legal fight to show it is unconstitutional.

Swan's uncle, state Rep. Ben Swan, D-Springfield, said he favors the bill.

"It shouldn't hurt anyone. I suspect any organization would want to provide an accounting on a regular basis," said Swan.

He said there would be no financial burden for small organizations to file the report, because of a three-tier structure with stiffer requirements for organizations with larger annual revenues.

Religious organizations that oppose the bill include: the Massachusetts Council of Churches, made up of 17 Orthodox and Protestant churches and denominations; the Massachusetts Catholic Conference; the Islamic Council of New England; the Massachusetts Association of Temple and Synagogue Administrators; the Black Ministerial Alliance; the Massachusetts Family Institute; and the Christian Science Church.