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CNSNews.com -The RightNews, Right Now

CNSNews.com -The RightNews, Right Now

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(CNSNews.com) – The formal public hearing for a proposed Connecticut law that would take control of Catholic Church governance out of the hands of Catholic clergy has been cancelled, in effect ending any further formal consideration of the bill. Some Republican Connecticut lawmakers, however, intend to hold an informal hearing on the proposal on Wednesday, and expect thousands to show up.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Bridgeport sent out an alert to members, saying, “The Public Hearing on Proposed Bill 1098 may have been postponed, but the bill is STILL ALIVE. Our rally in Hartford is STILL ON for Wednesday March 11 at Noon.”

While the rally is scheduled, the two Democratic lawmakers who introduced the bill released a statement mid-day Tuesday that partly read: “At the request of the proponents who are advocating this legislation, we have decided to cancel the public hearing for tomorrow, table any further consideration of this bill for the duration of this session, and ask the Attorney General his opinion regarding the constitutionality of the existing law that sets different rules for five named separate religions.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 1098, would take financial control of parishes away from the bishops and give governing authority to boards made up of members in each individual parish. The legislation specifies that it would not take away a bishop’s or priest’s authority concerning to religious teachings.

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport and Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford are urging Catholics to attend the Wednesday rally.

“This is a violation, a grave violation, of religious liberty,” Lori said last week. “We need to turn out 1,500 to 2,000 people. This bill was dropped in the hopper the day before the same-sex marriage bill was heard. This is a thinly veiled attempt to silence the church on important issues of the day, especially with regards to marriage.”

Specifically, the law says, “The corporation shall have a board of directors of not less than seven nor more than 13 lay members. The archbishop of the diocese or his designee shall serve as an ex-officio member of the board of directors without the right to vote.”

It also says, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit, restrict or derogate from any power, right, authority or responsibility of the bishop or pastor in matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices.”

Proponents of the bill say this will help prevent future cases of financial embezzlement, after a priest in Darien, Conn. embezzled $1.4 million from his parish. Parishioners in that case suspected wrongdoing but were not allowed to review books. However, opponents fear it is an encroachment that violates the 1st Amendment right to free exercise of religion.

“There was a massive groundswell. I’ve never seen a public hearing cancelled because the bill generated controversy,” Connecticut state Rep. Arthur O’Neill, the top House Republican on the legislature’s joint Judiciary Committee, told CNSNews.com.

“Democrats grossly underestimated the public’s reaction,” said O’Neill, who opposes the bill. “I understand there was such intensity that the House Democrats phone lines collapsed from the weight of telephone calls.”

The proposal was introduced in the joint Judiciary Committee chaired by state Sen. Andrew McDonald and state Rep. Michael Lawlor, both Democrats. In Connecticut, all legislative committees are made up of both House and Senate members. Neither chairman could be reached for comment Tuesday.

In a statement released Monday, both men said they did not write the proposal, but rather it was written by a group of Catholics in Fairfield County, the region where the Darien parish is located.

“A lot of misinformation has been spread about this proposal, and we ourselves are still learning exactly what its impact would be,” said the statement from McDonald and Lawlor. “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 existing state law. We ourselves are questioning certain aspects of their proposal and even the constitutionality of the current law.”

Such a change would take pressure off of priests and bishops in the state who are not trained to handle fiscal matters, said John Lee, a board member of Voice of the Faithful, a group that advocates for reforms in the Diocese of Bridgeport and supports the legislation.

“This concerns people that have power and don’t want to give it up,” Lee told CNSNews.com. “It has nothing to do with dogma or doctrine in the church. There is a lot of talent, experience and energy that could be put to good use in church leadership. The Holy Spirit guides all of us.”

On the political front, McDonald and Lawlor have been at odds with the Catholic church on issues such as gay marriage, gay adoption, and gay civil unions.

O’Neill suggested that given their history of being on the opposite side of such issues, that it might have been advisable for the co-chairmen to contact church leaders and at least work with other committee members in drafting the proposal.

“There was zero communication about this bill with Catholic leaders and even with the ranking members,” O’Neill said. “I haven’t heard anybody step forward to say we’re 100 percent with you on this.”

Democratic state Rep. Robert Godfrey, a Judiciary Committee member, accused Catholic leaders of a smear campaign.

“The Bishop [Lori] doesn’t want anyone to see the diocese’s books and how the money is spent,” Godfrey told CNSNews.com. “He is trying to smear the co-chairs. It’s very sad. The public is outraged over a fiction. The scheduled hearing tomorrow was cancelled because the Capitol Police were sweating crowd control.”

Godfey said the proposal is likely dead, but that state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is reviewing a state law that prohibits parishioners from reviewing the books of a church.

Churches already incorporate at non-profit entities under Connecticut statutes passed in the 1950s. Those laws were adopted in coordination with churches, O’Neill said, to ensure the state’s non-profit statutes didn’t conflict with religious doctrine.

While many protestant churches are governed by a board that hires a pastor, Catholic teaching says that clergy training has lineage dating back to the 12 apostles. Thus, the clergy have administrative authority over the individual churches.

Judiciary Committee member state Sen. Andrew Roraback, an opponent to the bill, said there is too little support from either party for the bill to survive.

“The state has no business intruding in the church,” Roraback told CNSNews.com. “This law would be unconstitutional. It’s over. I think they realized it was an ill-conceived bill.”
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