Alert: New Connecticut Bill Attacks Church Independence

American Papist
March 7, 2009

Connecticut lawmakers moved this week to directly attack the self-governing rights of the Catholic Church.

The Diocese of Bridgeport is calling on Catholics across the state to mobilize and "fight the irrational, unlawful, and bigoted Proposed Bill #1098/2009":

This past Thursday, March 5, the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature, which is chaired by Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford and Rep. Michael Lawlor of East Haven, introduced a bill that directly attacks the Roman Catholic Church and our Faith.

This bill violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It forces a radical reorganization of the legal, financial, and administrative structure of our parishes. This is contrary to the Apostolic nature of the Catholic Church because it disconnects parishes from their Pastors and their Bishop. Parishes would be run by boards from which Pastors and the Bishop would be effectively excluded.

This bill, moreover, is a thinly-veiled attempt to silence the Catholic Church on the important issues of the day, such as same-sex marriage.

The State has no right to interfere in the internal affairs and structure of the Catholic Church. This bill is directed only at the Catholic Church but could someday be forced on other denominations. The State has no business controlling religion. (source: Bridgeport Diocese)

Here's what you can do:

We urge you to call and e-mail Sen. McDonald and Rep. Lawlor:

Senator Andrew McDonald:

Capitol phone: (800) 842-1420; Home phone: (203) 348-7439


Representative Michael Lawlor:

Capitol phone: (800) 842-8267; Home phone: (203) 469-9725


We also ask you to come to Hartford this Wednesday, March 11, to be present at the public hearing. Details on bus transportation will be available on Monday. If you would like to attend, contact your Pastor.

Even though it is named "An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations" the bill in fact names the "Roman Catholic Church or congregations" in the state as the only party in question.

On top of it being an outrageous violation of the First Amendment it is also particularly anti-Catholic, and the politicians who have introduced and supported this bill should be strongly rebuked not just by Catholics, but by all Americans who hate religious discrimination and "hate legislation."

One particularly-offensive line in the bill (underlining mine):

"The corporation shall have a board of directors consisting of not less than seven nor more than thirteen lay members. The archbishop or bishop of the diocese or his designee shall serve as an ex-officio member of the board of directors without the right to vote."

That's right - archbishops and bishops under this bill would be stripped of their power to govern.

The General Counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says "I˛└┘m not sure I˛└┘ve ever seen a bill that˛└┘s so blatantly unconstitutional. It targets the Catholic Church explicitly and exclusively, and attempts to use the civil law to alter Church governance, particularly to divest the bishop of authority." Tom Hoopes calls it the "Miter-box Bill", because bishops should just box their miters if it passes.

The blog Catechism on Call says:

Right now we don˛└┘t know who sponsored this bill. The Catholic Key Blog notes that the dissident Catholic Group ˛└▄Voice of the Faithful˛└Ţ has often promoted the idea of ˛└▄trusteeism˛└Ţ or lay members hiring and firing pastors. But, to be fair, we don˛└┘t have evidence they are behind this legislation.

Regardless of where this idea came from - we do know who was willing to put it into practice. One wonders if the Church could take some sort of legal action in response to this unlawful intrusion. You can keep up to date on the bill's progress here. Paul's comment on Fr. Z's blog here is very helpful if you want to get a handle on the the legal in's and out's of the situation.

I'm happy to see the Diocese of Bridgeport rallying Catholics. I have not yet seen any activity on the Connecticut Catholic Conference website or the Archdiocese of Hartford or the Diocese of Norwich. The Knights of Columbus are headquartered in New Haven and will be very active I'd wager. I'll be chasing down these threads next.

update: Here (forwarded to me) is the justification for the bill given by one of the legislators who introduced it, Mike Lawlor:

... the current state statutes governing Roman Catholic corporations ... were enacted in 1955. SB 1098 is a proposal to make changes in that law, which was suggested by parishioners who were the victims of theft of their funds in several parishes, and these parishioners feel that the state's existing Roman Catholic Corporate laws prevented them from dealing with the misuse and theft of funds.

I agree with you that the whole notion of having a statute governing the church seems like an intrusion on the separation of church and state, but the current law does that already. Perhaps we should repeal the whole thing, but if we are going to have a corporate law of this type, it probably should make sure there cannot be deception of parishioners.

The Diocese of Bridgeport's statement responds to this claim of financial improprieties:

The Pastors of our Diocese are doing an exemplary job of sound stewardship and financial accountability, in full cooperation with their parishioners.

For the State Legislature ˛└ď which has not reversed a $1 billion deficit in this fiscal year ˛└ď to try to manage the Catholic Church makes no sense. The Catholic Church not only lives within her means but stretches her resources to provide more social, charitable, and educational services than any other private institution in the State. This bill threatens those services at a time when the State is cutting services. The Catholic Church is needed now more than ever.

We reject this irrational, unlawful, and bigoted bill that jeopardizes the religious liberty of our Church.

Connecticut: "keep your state out of our church!"


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