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Catholics Rally At Capitol

by Christine Stuart and Kimberly Primicerio | Mar 11, 2009 11:12am
(14) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: State Capitol

Christine Stuart photo

(Updated 4:00 p.m.) More than 4,000 Roman Catholics descended on the state Capitol Wednesday to protest a bill that would have changed how the church manages its finances by giving elected laity more power than priests or bishops.

The controversial bill was withdrawn Tuesday as questions about its constitutionality were raised by parishioners, church officials and some lawmakers. An informational hearing on the bill organized by Republican lawmakers and a rally outside the state Capitol went forward Wednesday despite the fact that the bill had been withdrawn.

Christine Stuart photo

“This is different than anything we’ve ever done because it doesn’t further any public purpose,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, an opponent of the bill, said. “It’s directly about government interfering with and changing a religion.”

Carl Andersen of the Knights of Columbus called the proposed bill an attack on the Catholic Church. But it’s an attack which is not unprecedented in the state’s history, he said. Connecticut once forbid Catholics from holding public office and purchasing land, he said. “Senate bill 1098 would turn back the clock 150 years.”

It would have a chilling affect on the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech, Andersen said. “We are here today to say that our priests and our bishops should be treated with respect.”

Claire Ann Headley of Brookfield said she can’t believe state lawmakers had the “audacity” to raise such a bill. “As Catholics we have to stand together,” Headley said in between handing out signs saying “Religious Freedom.”

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the bill went way beyond church financing. He said the way it was drafted would have given the board of elected lay persons control over the hiring and firing of priests and the mortgaging of church properties. “It decimates the entire corporate structure of the church,” he said.

At the forum on the bill, John H. Garvey, dean of Boston College Law School and Rev. Richard Ryscavage, director for faith in public life at Fairfield University, said the bill was indeed unconstitutional.

Garvey explained that Great Britain has an established church that is governed by the queen who manages its assets.  He pointed out that America removed itself from such corporate rule centuries ago by forming the United States and forbidding the establishment of a church ruled by the control of the government.

“This bill makes the Catholic church less hierarchical and more congregational,” Garvey said. “But in America this kind of action is unconstitutional.” He said the bill violates the First Amendment rule which states the legislature can not dictate church government. 

“It’s not the role of the state to eradicate the sins of a couple of priests,” Ryscavage said. He hopes the state will move away from what he felt was an “arrogant” piece of legislation.

The proposed bill also only focuses on the Catholic Church. Garvey said that no domination can be preferred over another. Under the current law Catholics should have the same accommodations as other churches, he said.

“The church is happy with the underlying statues,” Ryscavage said.

Church officials said they have instituted a number of measures to increase fiscal accountability and were offended by the state’s efforts to intervene in its finances.

Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, and Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chairmen of the Judiciary Committee said they introduced the legislation at the request of two constituents. Those two constituents asked the lawmakers Tuesday to withdraw the legislation, which they did.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said the Democratic lawmakers made the right decision. In a statement released this afternoon Rell said, “The co-chairs absolutely made the right decision by canceling the public hearing.  This proposal was blatantly unconstitutional, insensitive and inappropriate.”

“It is clear to me that my attempt to create a forum for a group of concerned Catholic constituents to discuss their legislative proposals regarding parish corporate finances has offended a group of similarly devout Catholic parishioners,” McDonald said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“It was never my intent to offend anyone of faith, nor to cast negative attention on the many trustworthy and responsible parish corporations,” he said. “My only goal was to try my best to represent the concerns of my constituents, some of whom were the victims of fraud.”

“I regret that in my pursuit of their interests, I failed to appreciate and invite into the discussion early on the views of other, equally concerned Catholics.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s office had not received a request to review the constitutionality of the existing law, but he said he has no reason to believe he won’t receive one.

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posted by: matt w | March 11, 2009  1:08pm

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said that he couldn’t recall seeing a crowd as large as the one gathered Wednesday outside and inside the state Capitol.

“This is different than anything we’ve ever done because it doesn’t further any public purpose,” he said.

Haha, nice quote. What has McKinney ever done that’s had a public purpose?

posted by: City Hall Watch | March 11, 2009  3:14pm

This bill likely went too far. The irony doesn’t escape me however, that the church is stunningly silent, slow to act and to this day, refuses to implement change in regard to some of most egregious atrocities in its history. But today, it has the cojones to paint itself as the victim of politics with the help of self-serving political stuntmen, all in an effort to keep its finances secret.

Where is the outrage over a priest who uses the hard earned money from church parishoners to squire his boyfriend around the world? Where was the Church’s oversight? Where was the Church’s moral standing? Did Carl Anderson and the Knights reimburse the congregation? Where was the outrage from the Church over all the abuse victims, some of which are still coming forward? Why is the Church still not fully implementing/embracing the changes recommended by the independent review board?

The Church believes in a double standard that it has a right to interfer with public policy (Plan B, illegal immigration, abortion), it just doesn’t believe public policy should interfer with its secrets, even if those secrets demonstrably hurt the people who worship in its bosom.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | March 11, 2009  4:28pm

I agree with this bill.This bill is not about the church,This bill is about the Funds that come in on sunday in the collection plate and the accountable of the funds to the members.Also this bill should be for all religious institutions!!! I saw on tv the other night
a minster who had some red cloth and said that this cloth has the blood of jesus on it and you can have a some of this cloth for 100.dollars plus shipping cost,Look at the pimps like Pat Roberson who has diamond mines in South Africa,Benny Himm,This is the reason why the books should be open.In fact a lawyer friend told me that If these churchs have a 501C they are not churchs.They are non-profit organizations institutions
and most churhs are.

posted by: Authentic Connecticut Republican | March 11, 2009  9:43pm

Well it wasn’t the Axe the Tax rally; but 5000 is a lot of people to get to show up fast and in the rain no-less.


One didn’t need to be Catholic to be appalled at the idea

posted by: Lothar | March 11, 2009  11:05pm

Have to love the victim mentality in the catholic community. They show up when it comes to dead legislation that would have put some accountability into their finances, but when it comes to the death penalty they barely make an appearance. ridiculous.

posted by: Lothar | March 11, 2009  11:07pm

Oh nice… and Dennis House reports that the lawmakers who submitted the bill (on behalf of parishioners, for all its faults) have received a death threat by email. Now that’s the Catholicism that i know all too well and will likely continue to need help recovering from…

posted by: Scrapgirl81 | March 12, 2009  10:55am

Ignorance is showing in many of these posts:

1. The diocese of Bridgeport in which the embezzlement took place completely overhauled and made transparent the way it handles church finances.

2. So many people contacted the state house that both the phone lines and email systems crashed. But one poster chooses to broad brush all Catholics with the single credible death threat that was made. Seems bigoted to me to do that. There’s one bad apple in every barrel.

3. It is not a double standard for the Church to uphold it’s independence from state control, while maintaining its right to voice opinions on social issues. No more than it would be a double standard for any citizen to uphold their freedom from state control over their lives while maintaining their right to vote.

4. Catholics are against the death penalty, duh, pro- LIFE, remember?

posted by: Lothar | March 12, 2009  12:04pm

Yes, I’m guilty of painting with a broad brush there… fair enough. There’s no question that this bill was written poorly. Could have been revised in the process to add language to create “temporary oversight” for the finances of parishes where embezzlement has occurred, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m just disappointed in catholics for picking the wrong battles. Yes, catholics are supposedly against the death penalty… but when the bill was raised to abolish capital punishment a few weeks ago, only one catholic testified in favor of the bill—a bishop (read: a professional catholic)—and he did so by submitting written testimony rather than attending a public hearing himself.

But there was no sign of that opposition to the death penalty from the thousands of catholics who showed up yesterday. They showed up yesterday for an issue that hits them where it must count more—their wallets.

That’s just disappointing to me.

posted by: Jay | March 12, 2009  12:55pm

I can understand some of the problems with this bill.  But I do think that this bill was in the right place.  This bill had nothing to do with religion.  It had to do with the money that was put in the collection plate on Sundays.  For far too long Catholics, and many other religious organizations, have complained that parishioners had little input in how church funds were spent.

Secondly,  this is NOT an unconstitutional bill.  This bill does not deal with religion.  This bill deals with the nonprofit structure of religious organizations.  The “state” can demand certain guidelines be followed in order to receive a tax exempt status.  All corporations Public and Private must in some way conform to government regulations.  As a parishioner, I would be glad to have more input in how my church spent its money. 

As it has been pointed out, the medieval methods of the Catholic Church are still alive and well.  The Church is slow to change and very often needs a little push.  In fact, the last major reform took place just after Martin Luther broke away from the church.  Now that is progress.

posted by: christine | March 12, 2009  1:31pm

The Capitol Police confirmed Thursday morning that they are looking into a threatening email sent to both Lawlor and McDonald regarding this issue. There wasn’t enough information for a full report but I will make certain to follow up on this potential story.

posted by: Jay | March 12, 2009  4:11pm

Just a comment on death threats regarding this issue.  How Christian!!  This goes right up their with all of Christ’s teachings like:

1. turn the other cheek
2. love your enemies as you love yourself
3.  Give to Ceaser what is Ceasers.

etc.  I may have the direct quotes wrong but the premise is correct.

posted by: Jay | March 12, 2009  4:37pm

“it is not a double standard for the Church to uphold it’s independence from state control, while maintaining its right to voice opinions on social issues. No more than it would be a double standard for any citizen to uphold their freedom from state control over their lives while maintaining their right to vote.”

Agreed, but the Church and many other churches have a favored place in our tax laws, namely they don’t pay any.  However, it is a long reach to compare the motives of an institution like the Catholic Church with that of an average citizen.  The Church for good or bad had much more clout and access to legislators than John Q. Citizen.  The reason:  the Church and influence more votes. 

Secondly,  The Church as far more independence regarding its financial matters.  It has only been within the last few years that the secrets of Catholic money changers have been disclosed. 

4. Catholics are against the death penalty, duh, pro- LIFE, remember? 

This point is strange:  I would say that Catholics and other anti abortion proponents are truly fishermen.  You throw them back until they get bigger.  For many this is a hollow argument, but Catholic teaching does not make a distinction. 

“Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.”

So, I would that this may be a double standard.  Like all human beings we are very capable of having those.  However, since Catholics are pro-life, they should be pro-all life, that includes ending the death penalty. 

Now it is not fair to poke fun at just Catholics here, it’s irresistible, but unfair.  Because many Evangelical churches have double standards.  Their problem is that they are less tied down by education and liturgy than the Catholic Church. 

So, when it comes down to it no religion without its double standards.  But to say the state should stay out of financial affairs of churches is not the same as freedom of religion.  there are two sides to churches, faith and financial.  The state has no business interfering with faith, it has every business to interfere with the financial.

posted by: Charles | March 13, 2009  8:51am

One threat out of 5,000 people ain’t bad when you consider 10% of the general population is certifiably insane. Assuming it is a genuine threat. It may be a put up job, or in these hypersensitive times it may not be a threat at all, just some coarse words from some lout.

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