Editorial: Church and State

The Darien Times
March 12, 2009

The Senate Judiciary co-chairmen made the right move this week by withdrawing what quickly became a controversial bill to strip Catholic bishops and pastors of parish financial controls.

The bill, An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations, was created, at least partly, in response to the former pastor of Darienís St. John Roman Catholic Church stealing more than a million dollars from his parish.

As word of the proposed bill spread through the Diocese of Bridgeport this week, one thing was clear: Catholics did not like our state government intervening in their church. And rightly so.

While there is merit to the idea of parishioners having administrative oversight of church money, there are constitutional questions over the governmentís right to require this.

When you write out your monthly contribution check or drop money in the collection plate on Sundays, you do so knowing that the church will now be in charge of this money. You do it on faith. While there is past evidence of pastoral maliciousness in some parishes, there has been no proven wide-spread theft across this diocese or others in the state.

It is up to the Bridgeport Diocese and its parishes to earn and keep the trust of its parishioners. After it was revealed that Michael Jude Fay, former pastor of St. Johnís, was stealing money, it took a new pastor and new financial openness to regain the parishís trust.

That trust appears to have returned under Monsignor Frank McGrath. While St. Johnís was once the example of what could go wrong with your tithing, it is now an example how a pastor and his parishioners can work together. All Catholics across the diocese can be grateful for this turnaround.

The Bridgeport Diocese now publishes independent audit results of its finances online and in its newspaper, which is mailed to all parishioners. As it was quick to point out this week, the dioceseís financial oversight has become a model to others across the country.

The Judiciary Committee should have done some more homework before proposing this bill. Besides its questionable violation of the First Amendment, it would have served the potential law better by including church leaders at the outset rather than surprising them with this proposal.

In a wise and kind move, General Assembly Republicans, who came out against the bill this week, offered a forum to Catholic leaders and laypersons Wednesday in Hartford ó even though the Democratic co-chairmen withdrew the bill. Both sides made the right move: This bill was premature and flawed; but the Connecticut Catholics who were outraged by it, still deserved a forum for their voices to be heard.

Trust in your church is your own choice. The government should not be involved.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.