The Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly, chaired by Senator Andrew McDonald and Representative Michael Lawlor, seems to have run off into a ditch this session.
First we have an over-reaching attempt to codify the Connecticut Supreme Court's Kerrigan decision legalizing gay marriage - Senate Bill 899 - and now we have a bizarre attack of First Amendment rights against the Roman Catholic Church in Connecticut - Senate Bill 1098.
I'm going to focus on Senate Bill 1098 -- "An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Institutions." The stated purpose of this bill is "to revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church and provide for the investigation of the misappropriation of funds by religious corporations." The real purpose of this bill is payback to the bishops and pastors of the Roman Catholic Church in Connecticut for opposing gay marriage.
Unfortunately, I think some well-intentioned, unhappy Catholics from Darien are being used as pawns by Senator McDonald and Representative Lawlor in a thinly-veiled attack on the Church.
This legislation seeks to eliminate bishops and pastors from all financial decisions of the Church. Currently, local parish corporations are governed by the bishop, diocesan administrator, pastor and two lay trustees as required in Canon Law. Senate Bill 1098 will change this to an elected board of directors of seven to thirteen lay members and will exclude the bishop and pastor. The pastor of the parish corporation will report to the board of directors.
This proposal turns the Catholic Church of Connecticut into a congregational church structure. The proponents claim this is necessary because of financial impropriety of two pastors from Darien and Greenwich in the past several years. McDonald and Lawlor claim the parishioners approached them for assistance making changes to the Catholic Church to hold the bishops accountable for their decisions.
Some would say this is an incredibly bold move by McDonald and Lawlor but the constitutional scholars say their proposal is a clear attack on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Connecticut Catholics are outraged by the proposal and are likely to fill the halls of the State Capitol and the Legislative Office Building on Wednesday, March 11th for the Judiciary Committee's public hearing on the bill.
I suspect this public hearing will be more like a zoo with the tone of an inquisition. Chances are the topics for discussion on Wednesday will go far beyond the bill proposed. I fear that we'll be hearing all kinds of attacks on the bishops, pastors and priests of the Catholic Church.
I pray fervently that we can dispense with this brutal attack on the Roman Catholic Church very quickly. Catholics don't deserve this attack and the proponents of this bill will hopefully hear this message loud and clear.
You can read about S.B. 1098 here: http://cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=1098&which_year=2009
You can reach members of the Judiciary Committee here: http://cga.ct.gov/jud/