Some Catholic Churches May Be Stripped of Finance Control

March 9, 2009

[with video]

(NECN: Brian Burnell, Hartford, Conn.) - There is a battle brewing in Connecticut over money and the Catholic church. Some parishioners want to put control of parish finances in the hands of a board of Lay people. It's a reaction to stolen church funds and the state's bishops don't like it.

There have been several documented cases in Connecticut of church funds being embezzled by parish priests. In one case, a priest in Darien was convicted of stealing almost $1.5 million. That lead to a proposed law that would turn control of each parish's finances over to a board of Lay people.

"It just seems to fly in the face of the First Amendment. It effectively is dictating how the diocese should run its affairs and eliminates the Archbishop of Hartford and the pastor of every parish from any meaningful say in the operation of the parish," says Rev. Msgr. John McCarthy of the Cathedral of St. Joseph.

The state's three bishops issued a letter, condemning the proposal. It was read to the faithful from the pulpit over the weekend.

his bill didn't come out of nowhere. Good Catholics contacted lawmakers saying they are tired of seeing stories about the embezzlement of church funds. And they have facts to back it up. Villanova University did a survey recently. 85% of parishes responding said they had suffered some form of embezzlement to the tune of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As for the separation of church and state, there is already a law on the books, passed in 1866, that lays out how churches incorporate with subsections dealing with specific denominations, including the Roman Catholics. The co-chair of the judiciary committee says the Catholic hierarchy's reaction is not unexpected.

"It's a classic treatment of a message you don't want to deal with. Blame something else and the fact is that the parishioners from within the diocese are the very people who wanted this legislation. They are some of the most scholarly and influential and, frankly, generous contributors to the catholic church in the state," says Sen. Andrew McDonald (D-Stamford).

A public hearing on this is scheduled for Wednesday.


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