Only Misinformed Catholics Protested Finance Bill

By Bryan Murphy
The Daily Campus
March 26, 2009

With "news" commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann outrating their reporter counterparts and the blogosphere threatening to subsume traditional newspapers, opinion is the new fact. And hell, seeing as how I make a buck off the trend well enough, I guess I can't complain. But give me one indulgence: If I say some pretty stupid stuff in this column, at least it's obsessively-researched stupid stuff.

But what with the ease of Google, I'm still slightly surprised by the number of people willing to clamber up onto their modernized Dolby Digital Soapbox 2.0s without having made a reasonable effort to insure that they know what they're talking about. Take Connecticut's most recent Catholic blow-up, wherein thousands of angry Catholics stormed Hartford to protest a proposed bill that Bishop Lori of Bridgeport called a "thinly-veiled attempt to silence the Catholic Church." The nefarious bill would have forced the Church to make its financial control democratic and public. Its anti-religious impetus was a desire to prevent fiascos, such as the recent case of a Darien pastor who swiped over $1.3 million dollars from his parish so as to buy French jewelry, fast cars and hot vacations for himself and his live-in gay lover.

Wait - you didn't hear about the Darien thing? It probably didn't get a whole lot of press; the Catholic Church is less concerned with gay priests stealing money from their parishioners to buy sports cars than with the threat of public audits and democratic finances.

The now-infamous Bill 1098 simply proposed changes to laws currently on the Connecticut books, laws allowing "any Roman Catholic Church or congregation in this state" to organize a corporation for the control of the Church or congregation's finances.

Those Catholics who breathlessly denounced the unconstitutionality of a law targeting a specific religious denomination might want to note that Connecticut's current laws concerning "Religious Corporations" date from 1949 - and there are Connecticut statutes specifically concerning not only Catholics, but also Methodists, Episcopalians, Augustan Lutherans, plain Lutherans and United Methodists too.

But as churches have always been glad to grab whatever breaks they can from the state's hands, there wasn't any complaint until Bill 1098; you don't see Bishop Lori demanding the laws targeting religious organizations for tax exemptions be repealed. Similarly, the Catholic hierarchy had no problem with the legal advantages of incorporation when the law stipulated that such a corporation could keep its finances secret, and would be controlled by a five-person board composed of three Church officials and two appointed laypeople.

The new revision mandated that a Catholic corporation keep its books in public, and that the controlling board be made up of 7 to 13 laypeople elected by their fellow congregants. But apparently, a whole boatload of folks were fine with the old system, and saw nothing wrong with a law mandating that millions of dollars donated by Connecticut residents be controlled, in tax-exempt secrecy, by men appointed by an organization with a reputation for laundering and philandering.

If the Catholic Church didn't want its finances controlled in a manner dictated by the state, they simply could have eschewed the advantages of incorporation, which isn't precisely a natural right. No corporation, no state mandates. While they're at it, they could pay some property taxes, too! Now would be just the time for it.

But taking the good with the bad isn't necessary when you have the power of the Holy Trinity on your side. Lori and his subordinates set loose their lay-hounds on the state senators who proposed Bill 1098. Then, busloads of angry congregants made the trek to Hartford to virulently denounce the immorality of a bill whole-heartedly intended to help them. They made the trip even though the Bill was preemptively killed before their departure.

I'll admit, the 1098 affair has given me a newfound respect for Lori's talents. Anyone that can whip thousands into a furiously marching to denounce their own self-interest deserves serious kudos - but I'm still slightly bewildered by those same legions of Catholic laymen raging against a bill intended to help them avoid having their donations funneled toward Cartier circlets and pre-adolescent payoffs.

I guess the only logical conclusion is that some people apparently don't like doing a bit of research.


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