Catholic Bishops Protest Finances Proposal

By Ryan Blessing
Norwich Bulletin
March 9, 2009 Catholic-bishops-protest-finances-proposal

Norwich, Conn. —

The Diocese of Norwich has joined Connecticut's Catholic bishops to condemn a bill they claim would strip the church of control of its finances.

The bill, introduced Thursday by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, would allow local parishioners to control their individual church's financial affairs.

Each parish would have a board of directors of seven to 13 lay members, according to the draft of the legislation. The archbishop or bishop of the diocese or his designee would serve as an ex-officio member of the board of directors without the right to vote.

The board of directors would have the authority to establish and approve budgets, manage the financial affairs of the church, provide for the auditing of financial records and develop and implement strategic plans and capital projects. The pastor of the congregation would report to the board of directors with respect to administrative and financial matters.

"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," the state's Catholic bishops said Monday in a statement. "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."

Attack on church

The Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, bishop of Norwich, said in a letter to diocese priests last weekend that they should inform parishioners of the bill. The bishop urged pastors and parishioners to oppose the bill and encouraged attendance at a Judiciary Committee public hearing Wednesday in Hartford.

"This bill is a legislative attack on the governance of the Catholic Church in Connecticut," Cote said. "No other religious organization in the state is mentioned in this bill. It will do irreparable harm to the church."

Diocese of Norwich spokesman Michael Strammiello said most calls and e-mails to the diocese offices offered strong support.

"I think you're going to see a very enthusiastic turnout," he said.

Priest took $1.4 million

Stamford state Sen. Andrew McDonald said any parish wishing to could leave its affairs under diocesan control. McDonald said a prime motivation behind the bill is the financial mismanagement in which a priest was convicted of stealing up to $1.4 million from a Darien church.

McDonald and Judiciary Committee co-Chairman Rep. Mike Lawlor said Monday the bill was not an attack on the church or freedom of religion.

"In reality, this bill was proposed and written by a group of faithful Catholic parishioners from Fairfield County who asked the Judiciary Committee to consider giving the subject a public hearing," McDonald and Lawlor said in a joint statement. "A lot of misinformation has been spread about this proposal, and we ourselves are still learning exactly what its impact would be."


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