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Catholic Church Calls Proposed
Fiscal Oversight Bill ‘Unconstitutional’

by | Mar 9, 2009 2:51pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: State Capitol

Christine Stuart file photo

The state’s Catholic bishops rallied in opposition Sunday to a Judiciary Committee bill that would put a board of elected lay persons in charge of each Connecticut parish’s finances.

Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, introduced the bill at the request of members of St. John Church in Darien, where its former pastor, the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, was convicted of stealing $1.4 million from parishioners over several years.

The state’s bishops on Sunday urged parishioners to fight the proposed bill.

In a telephone interview Monday, Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, said it was the Catholic Church that brought the situation involving the Rev. Fay to the attention of law enforcement.

Culhane said he doesn’t understand why the proposed bill specifically targets the Catholic Church and not the organizational charts of all the other denominations. He said that under Canon Law each parish in the state already has a finance committee of lay persons which examine and sign off on a parish’s budget.

“The bill on its face is unconstitutional,” Culhane said, adding that it also is “discriminatory and anti-Catholic.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., condemned the bill and questioned whether any such law could survive constitutional challenges. Cafero said his office has been “swamped’’ with calls and e-mail from constituents throughout the state who are outraged by the proposal.

“To say that people are outraged over this proposal to bar the Catholic Church from overseeing its own finances is being charitable,” Cafero said in a written statement Monday afternoon. “This bill has provoked a lot of people.’‘

Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy also issued a statement saying, “Whether you are Catholic or not, it is frightening that the Democratic leadership believes that the state knows best when it comes to running churches in Connecticut. Every citizen of Connecticut, no matter what faith, should be concerned by this legislation.”

In a statement published on the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Web site, Bishop Henry Mansell cited the First Amendment in opposition to the bill.

“This bill violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Mansell wrote. “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 Archbishop would be effectively excluded.”

Mansell also encouraged Catholic parishioners to visit the Capitol Wednesday, March 11, to attend a public hearing on the bill, which again pits the Catholic Church against the chairmen of the Judiciary Committee. The church has butted heads with the committee co-chairmen over same-sex marriage, but that issue ultimately was decided by the state Supreme Court rather than the legislature.

However, McDonald and Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, don’t quite see it as only the two of them against the Catholic Church, since they say it was Catholic parishioners who urged them to draft the proposed law in favor fiscal oversight.

“It has been incorrectly characterized that this legislation originated from the two of us as an attack on the church and freedom of religion,” Lawlor and McDonald said in this statement released Monday morning.

“We are keeping an open mind to what these parishioners have to say about their church, and we respectfully ask that others give them the courtesy of listening to their proposed changes in the existing state law governing Roman Catholic corporations,” the statement says. “We ourselves are questioning certain aspects of their proposal and even the constitutionality of the current law.”

This link contains the state laws governing religious corporations, which includes individual provisions relating to the Protestant Episcopal Church, Methodist Church, Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lutheran Church of America, and the Roman Catholic Church.

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(10) Archived Comments

posted by: Jay | March 9, 2009  5:53pm

The law is not unconstitutional for several reasons.  First, the state, not just CT, can set the guidelines for how corporations may be organized and governed. If this is the ground that the church wants to challenge, they may find it difficult to pass the legal muster in a court of law.

Second, the law does not exclude pastors or church officials from having input into the process.  They may sit on the proposed board.  However, they don’t have a voting stake.  This could be an advantage for the Catholic and other churches given the vast array of allegations against church officials in the last 20 years. I am surprised that the various church organizations have not thought of this to being with. 

If you look at the construction of the bill SB1098, it divides the financial aspects of churches from the spiritual realm.  In effect, the law looks to me like it is attempting to safeguard the funds provided to the church given by parishioners.  This could provide some shelter to churches that have been unfortunate in having officials who have molested or sexually assaulted young church members. 

This separation would provide a way to ensure that monies were spent appropriately and maintain an open record of financial decisions.  Most companies public or private have to maintain and provide that information in some capacity. 

Given the multi-million dollar law suits against church officials, I would think that churches would embrace this structure.  I know it is a change from 14th century accounting, but sooner or later we all must embrace change.  If one looks at the structure proposed, it is not that drastic of a change.  It sets up a structure that provides for checks and balances between church officials and their congregations. 

This small measure may actually provide a greater latitude on the part of congregation members.  In the end, is that a bad thing? 

posted by: Actually Jay | March 9, 2009  6:20pm


I’m not sure where you got your law degree but there is no way this passes constitutional muster.  Churches can set themselves up anyway they like within the confines of the federal tax exemption.  A state cannot choose among denominations, nor can it create rules that would interfere with how the church deems it appropriate to govern itself as long as that mechanism is inherently tied to the nature of the religion itself—and does not violate the rights of others.

You may like that the church would better spend its money under your model, but that is irrelevant.  What matters is that the state cannot any more stop this set of churches from creating its own governance than it can any other.

This is so silly that lots of people who are not Catholic and don’t agree politically with the Catholic Church on many issues, will oppose it.  I know, I’m one of them.

MacDonald has lots of other avenues for ensuring that the church meets its fiduciary obligations.  And those would be constitutional.  This is not and it is laughably wrong.

As a life-long Democrat, I am amazed by the Democrats in our legislature’s ability to do stupid things.  Without them we would have been rid of Lady Rell long ago.  First they want to give a job to a former speaker, now they want to tell religious organizations how to run their operations.

Without nonsense like this, people would not feel the need to keep someone who does nothing in the Governor’s office.  But all Democrats all the time might lead to some craziness like this actually passing.

posted by: Christian debt relief | March 9, 2009  8:03pm

Interesting comments Jay - good insight had not really considered your points.  Not sure where I am on the issue at this time though.

posted by: Mike Green | March 9, 2009  11:31pm

Actually Jay

You have just substantiated what I have said in your first sentance.  The Federal and State goverments DO set guidlines for governance of corporations, nonprofits, and religious organization.  All by using the tax powers of the state.  As for the state telling a church what they can do, that is elemenary.  Federal and State governments have told churches what they can and cannot do all the time. 

There are numerous regulations that relate to church exemption under certain circumtances (conditions).  Just like other corporations or business oganizations they all have to comply with federal and state regulations. 

As far as telling churchs how to govern themseles, I suggest you look at this <a> link </a> These are a whole list of regultions that religious organizations must comply with even how their organization is governed

posted by: Mike Green | March 9, 2009  11:51pm

Just a side note.  I am all for a separation of church and state when it comes to ones beliefts.  However, my point is that “the state” has can and does not allowed certain religous practices.  For instance, polygamy.  Accepted within Mormon teachings but disallowed by “the state”. 

As far as governing strucure, I admit that the state has been fairly limited in that capacity.  But section 33 of the Conncticut Statutes adequately lists and provides for the governance of churches (33-264a).  It is broad but it does detail governace.

posted by: Authentic Connecticut Republican | March 10, 2009  10:04am

Can price regulations for Girl Scout Cookies be far behind?

posted by: Connecticut Man1 | March 10, 2009  10:46am

I may not agree with the State trying to step into church turf, even if it is only the money side - of which there are many laws that non-taxpaying non-profits are subject too in order to avoid problems like embezzling - but it might solve some of these church problems with funneling money out of parish and/or out of state for political fights that their own parishioners don’t necessarily support.

I think that is what scares the these Bishops the most. Possibly being told that parishioners don’t want to spend money on political fights on abortion, gay marriage, etc..

Big Hypothetical: It will be interesting to see if that happens (should it pass) and what their reactions will be. The priest wants to send a few grand to California to fight for prop 8 and the board says no? Are they gonna excommunicate their boards if there is a disagreement? (Just a possible example - I could give others but I don’t want to get sidetracked by arguments about paying off victims of molestation.)

Some serious potential for pie fights within the church. 

And it is not just the Catholic church. Being at the front of this political fight they are just the prime example. There are many church’s that do stuff their parishioners don’t like. Fortunately, there are probably more that don’t have these problems.

posted by: Connecticut Man1 | March 10, 2009  10:53am

ACR: I was telling my wife (girl scout leader) the other day that they may have to drop the prices of their cookies because of the depression the GOP free-market-run-amok led us into.

People living in Bushvilles (the modern day Hoovervilles popping up all across the country) don’t have money for cookies.

All politics and religion aside: Their cookie sales are way down this year.

posted by: iBlog | March 10, 2009  1:41pm

“Culhane said he doesn’t understand why the proposed bill specifically targets the Catholic Church and not the organizational charts of all the other denominations.”

I’m with you all the way on this, Michael.  If there’s an institution LESS likely to be involved in a massive local and nationwide cover-up of an ongoing series of illegal activities, then I - for one - sure would like to meet them!

posted by: Candy | March 12, 2009  3:16am

I don’t know where they go to church, but we get a statement down to the dime.  Then again, we don’t do political causes, we have schools, a senior center, adoption center, pantry, repairs and other things that take most of it. 

Forcing doctors to give abortions so the hospitals will close, parish schools in DC turned into charter schools, pressuring sex ed in Cath. schools since they take children with vouchers (I guess not soon, after he nixes them), now attempting to run the church. Next up the UN citing any talk against Islam only and same sex is hate speech.  State as god.  I’ve seen this before and it didn’t end well…  not at all.

To those who deem a religious institution equal to a corporation…

The Catholic Church is not a democracy, want to rule the world or the layperson a voting member… we already have Parish councils and Group leaders. 

People decide if they want to give, no one shakes them down for their tithes.  So don’t put money in the envelope, why in blazes would they run to government… they know where to go, we have a chain of command, so to speak.

Where is the section that applies to fiscal boards elected to mosque to determine where the zakat goes?  Maybe they don’t want it to go to Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia through ‘charities’ for weapons instead of food, medicine and building materials.  And trust me… you don’t have to ask how they feel re: prop 8 (my mistake, you don’t know the background on this story re: the prop 8 donation).  Have they done this with synagogues, four square gospel, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Mormons, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Wiccans, Theosophists, etc.?

This is something else going on with them.  If you love the Lord and not that parish, go to another one. They should be there to worship, it isn’t a social setting where everyone’s there to make them feel cozy, right with God and will jump to promote everything in two individuals lives (in particular), to promote their agendas… which is against the gospel.  That’s what it’s about btw.  When did the embezzlement happen?  When did they start this bill?

I can’t believe we’re talking about the same state that began the push for sharia financing… which is promoting religion btw (google for requirements for organizations to be sharia compliant).  But I guess those ‘corporations’ (including AIG whom we bailed out), have carte blanche, even though they pay taxes.

I will be up there soon to request the names of the individuals from the parishes that brought this forth and talk to them.

Then the gov’t offices, to explain the religious clause in view of the CT statute.

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