Proposed Bill Would Change the Governance of Catholic Parishes in Connecticut

Senate Bill 1098 was raised by the Judiciary Committee last week that changes the corporate organization of Roman Catholic Churches in Connecticut.  It requires that each parish have a board of directors of at least seven and no more than thirteen lay persons.  The general administrative and financial powers of the corporation would be exercised by or under the authority of the board of directors, requiring the pastor of the congregation to report to the board of directors with respect to administrative and financial matters.

The Connecticut Catholic Conference has put out an e mail bulletin urging all to call their representatives.

Ask them to oppose this legislation, which is a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees the free exercise of religion.

The Catholic Bishops of Connecticut have stated “This legislation 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 Bishops. Parishes would be run by boards from which Pastors and Bishops would be effectively excluded.”

The alert states further:

Beyond the structural changes proposed by the legislation, this legislation raises serious concerns about separation of church and state. Especially when the legislation is directed at only one specific religious faith community.

The priests in the Norwich Diocese all spoke against the proposed legislation in Masses this morning.  Their point is that the bill is a violation of the first amendment and a violation of Canon Law which governs how parishes are to be organized.

A reading of the proposed bill would lead one to believe that it is an outgrowth of some cases of financial malfeasance by some parish priests in the recent past.  Although many non Catholic congregations would not see any harm in the legislation, the Catholic Church is not, nor has it ever been, an organization governed by the parishioners but rather from the Pope, Bishops, and Pastors.  As such, there is a legitimate feeling that this is targeted against the Catholic Church and, therefore, unconstitutional.

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42 responses to “Proposed Bill Would Change the Governance of Catholic Parishes in Connecticut

  1. Well, at least this will give them something to focus on rather than marriage equality.

  2. How could this bill not get instantly thrown out by a federal court on first amendment grounds?

  3. Well, I guess you really do learn something new every day. I was unaware that there were specific laws governing the establishment of certain christian religious corporations. (Are there similar laws governing other religions? I didn’t see anything in a brief scan of the statutes online… emphasis on “brief.”)

    It’s good to see Christian leaders acknowledging that the constitutional separation of church and state does exist. Unfortunately, I can’t help but notice that this proposed legislation amends a statute governing church affairs that has been on the books for many decades. That’s the problem with the constitutional separation of church and state. You can’t pick and choose the situations in which you want to claim its protection. That’s because, once you allow the state to interfere in the conduct of one aspect of religious affairs, you implicitly give the state the right to claim an even greater control over such affairs in the future.

  4. It requires that each parish have a board of directors of at least seven and no more than thirteen lay persons. The general administrative and financial powers of the corporation would be exercised by or under the authority of the board of directors, requiring the pastor of the congregation to report to the board of directors with respect to administrative and financial matters.

    Want a church that’s governed by it’s own congregation?
    Join one; there’s loads of `em.

    What’s next?
    Girl Scout Cookie price regulations?

  5. Who is the “left wing nut” that brought this up? With all the problems we have in this state this is not one of them.

  6. There has been for several years now a national movement to create lay boards in Catholic parishes. The movement sprang up in part because of the huge outlays of money by the dioceses in pedophile priest lawsuits. Parishioners are also angry about the dioceses taking all their donations, effectively starving their own schools and churches (and in many instances closing them) while using the money in other areas more important to whatever bishop is in charge at the time. In some ways, the Catholic financial structure is a pyramid scheme, and many parishioners are tired of it. The bishops, of course, don’t want to stop their money stream and so don’t want parishioners controlling their parish purse strings. (If parishes get to say “no” to the bishop building a new regional high school, for example, the bishop might not get promoted.) So in some places, bishops are deciding to deny sacraments to maverick parishioners who have formed boards.

    I think also that parishioners are a little ticked off at their church hierarchy using church funds to support things like Prop 8.

    Interesting that this comes during the same period of time in which the Catholic Church is seeking to pass discriminatory legislation that allows businesses to refuse services to same-sex marriages, and to exempt Justices of the Peace to ignore state law simply because they don’t like it.

    If the Catholic Church can impose Catholic dogma on non-Catholics through legislation then I suppose they should accept the state imposing legislation on them. Since that isn’t going to happen (and I’m not sure it should, really), then maybe the thing to do is simply take away the tax exemption that the Catholic church enjoys and let them go their merry way to becoming a political organization rather than a religious one. At some point the Catholic church is going to have to decide what it actually is: a religion or a political arm of the far right with its strings pulled by organizations like FIC and NOM.

  7. “and to exempt Justices of the Peace to ignore state law simply because they don’t like it.”

    Edit: to exempt Justices of the Peace from following state law simply because they don’t like it.”

  8. Tom Van Stone

    Who is the “left wing nut” that brought this up? With all the problems we have in this state this is not one of them.

    Andrew McDonald of Stamford and Michael Lawlor of East Haven.

    huge outlays of money by the dioceses in pedophile priest lawsuits.

    Yeah, that I can understand parishioners being upset with (as am I), but that’s not worthy of anti-Catholic legislation.

    I think also that parishioners are a little ticked off at their church hierarchy using church funds to support things like Prop 8.

    Fair enough but the Catholic Church is pretty clear on where they stand with Gay Marriage and Abortion, too. Millions of moderate Catholics get along just fine simply agreeing to disagree.

    These days or religious apathy, actively attending Catholics are gold to a Parish Priest. If a Pastor bucks his parish council and spends money on a project that they disagree with, they’re gonna leave the council and probably stop attending, which directly inhibits the collection baskets’ intake. The argument that Catholic parishioners are so enraged over pastors spending their money in ways they don’t approve of is a bit tough for me to chew.

    Even if the general public doesn’t like some of the uber-conservative political positions of the Catholic Church, there’s MILLIONS of dollars and manhours spent by the Church on social welfare projects that directly benefit the citizens of this state. Taking a stance like this bill does is really just cutting of your nose to spite your face.

    Normally I’m not one to “attack” another religion in any way, but when mine’s being singled out by ridiculously discriminatory legistlation, I’m gonna go ahead and say this: Find me one other religious institution in this state that does as much for their community. If the shoe were put on the foot of a religion such as Islam, there would be a national outcry and CT Dems would look like fools.

    Here’s the bill: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/TOB/S/2009SB-01098-R00-SB.htm
    Here’s the Archibishop’s response: http://www.archdioceseofhartford.org/news/abmansellletter.pdf

  9. If the Catholic Church can impose Catholic dogma on non-Catholics through legislation then I suppose they should accept the state imposing legislation on them. Since that isn’t going to happen (and I’m not sure it should, really), then maybe the thing to do is simply take away the tax exemption that the Catholic church enjoys and let them go their merry way to becoming a political organization rather than a religious one. At some point the Catholic church is going to have to decide what it actually is: a religion or a political arm of the far right with its strings pulled by organizations like FIC and NOM.

    So, to recap: if a church expresses a preference on a political question, and the government does not approve of that preference, the government gets to run the church (or at least punish it in some way). That’s a novel interpretation of the First Amendment.

  10. If parishioners of the Catholic church are so upset, why don’t they find a different church, and not have the state government try to tell church what sort of organizational structure the church needs to have?

  11. Tom Van Stone

    If parishioners of the Catholic church are so upset, why don’t they find a different church, and not have the state government try to tell church what sort of organizational structure the church needs to have?

    I almost said that myself, but not all towns have multiple Catholic Churches. We have a buffet of them here in Waterbury, but just over in very conservative, Republican Southbury, there’s only one. Go figure.

  12. If parishioners of the Catholic church are so upset, why don’t they find a different church, and not have the state government try to tell church what sort of organizational structure the church needs to have?

    Something more easily done by most Protestants; and having done it – gut-wrenching.

    For a lot of devout / attendant Roman Catholics, it would be unthinkable.

    Many Roman Catholics believe there’s is the only true Christian Church and the rest of us are members of “sects”.
    While as a Protestant I’m somewhat offended by that perspective; it’s theirs and I try to make it a habit to not second-guess the Founders on such issues.
    A good time to “turn the other cheek” as it were.
    (No good ever comes out of messing around with the other guy’s religion; it’s just a bad idea.)

    Maybe my own denomination offends Roman Catholics in some way; (I can’t imagine how) yet I can’t recall ever feeling the RC’s were trying to implement some law so as to dictate to us how we operate our congregation, much-less our entire denomination.

    This is probably an area best not only “left alone”; but to run screaming away from with as much haste as one can muster.

  13. >>Many Roman Catholics believe there’s is the only true

    Duh??
    Spell check didn’t help with that at all.

    How about their’s

    That ACR, he’s such a f***ing moron so help me……

  14. Nothing to do with religious freedom – it is corporate law – and believe it or not the catholic church is a normal state corporation . There have been numerous ripoffs by numerous priests plus the diverting of local church funds to pay for the sex law suits that make this a very good idea – from abortion to stem cell research to wanting to allow public businesses to discriminate against people they do not approve , the catholic church needs to be taught a lesson in equality and decency.

  15. Republitarian

    Gee… I am sooooo glad that this CT legislature is tackling this extremely important and Earth-shaking issue! I mean with our economy in shambles and businesses closing up shop and people losing their jobs it is so nice to know that our paid legislators (with benefits) are making such important strides in solving the economic problems of CT with this legislation (NOT!)

    Hey CT, when are you ever going to wake up to the fact that these clowns that you continually re-elect DO NOT DO anything meaningful to further the prosperity of this state?

    What in heaven’s name are these people thinking? Is it something in the water? is it some sort of fumes traveling through the air ducts up there? what is it that creates such moronic legislation? Why are they wasting time on this? why aren’t their constituents rioting in the hallways?

    The whole lot of them ought to be turned out on their collective arses for wasting time, money and resources on doing anything other than working to create an atmosphere in CT conducive to a sound and healthy economy!

    Hey CT legislators – Leave the Church alone and do the job we elected you to do already!

  16. There have been numerous ripoffs by numerous priests plus the diverting of local church funds to pay for…..

    Every other church and non-profit has encountered the same or parrallel problems at one time or another.

    ……….from abortion to stem cell research to wanting to allow public businesses to discriminate against people they do not approve , the catholic church needs to be taught a lesson in equality and decency.

    Oh!
    Now I get it, you don’t like them so whatever anyone does to “show them a thing or two” is okay is that right?

    Can you explain how is this any different from any other form of bigotry?

  17. Nothing to do with religious freedom – it is corporate law – and believe it or not the catholic church is a normal state corporation . There have been numerous ripoffs by numerous priests plus the diverting of local church funds to pay for the sex law suits that make this a very good idea – from abortion to stem cell research to wanting to allow public businesses to discriminate against people they do not approve , the catholic church needs to be taught a lesson in equality and decency.

    So should churches be allowed to express opinions on anything you disagree with then?

  18. It was pointed out to me this evening that, because the Catholic church solicits contributions (which are tax exempt) from the public, it is may indeed be subject to scrutiny by the state, just the same as any other charitable organization that asks people for money for charitable purposes.

    This isn’t an “anti-Catholic” proposal and to call it that is just trying to move the focus of the discussion away from the issue at hand. And the state is not asking to control the Catholic churches; it is calling for Catholics to be able to have oversight of the funds they have donated.

    One wonders why the Catholic church is so afraid to open its books, even to its own members (who have given the money). Is it a power thing, or is there something to hide? So far as I know most Protestant churches have lay boards who oversee their finances and no one considers that a war on Protestantism.

  19. According to this “McDonald introduced the proposed bill at the request of members of St. John Church.”

    That would be the church where the priest took all their money and spent it on limos and fancy hotels. They don’t seem to be too good at policing their own in that organization, do they?

  20. This isn’t an “anti-Catholic” proposal and to call it that is just trying to move the focus of the discussion away from the issue at hand.

    I think that’s accurate. The weird statements today by Lori suggesting that this was somehow about gay marriage set off an alarm bell.

  21. .. most Protestant churches have lay boards who oversee their finances and no one considers that a war on Protestantism.

    We know what the previous weeks attendance at all services was, and how we’re doing financially to the dime, every week; it’s printed in the bulletin.

    However, that’s how we do it; no one came in and told us how to run our church.

    We also have no church hierarchy, (no Bishops none of that) and everyone on staff from the senior pastor on down serves at the will of the congregation via the elected (annually) church council.

    Once again, that’s how we do it, no one came in and forced anything on us.

    I don’t think it’s appropriate for the state to interfere in this area; regardless of who or what group does.
    It sets a horrible precedent.

  22. The weird statements today by Lori suggesting that this was somehow about gay marriage set off an alarm bell.

    According to this “McDonald introduced the proposed bill at the request of members of St. John Church.”

    Because it is Andrew McDonald proposing this regulation, you knew immediately that they’d spin it to be about marriage rather than another instance of the Catholic church failing to police itself.

    Any criticism of, or disagreement with, the Catholic church is now met with cries of a “war on Catholicism.” I guess that’s the way they’re choosing to keep the membership in line: by painting them as martyrs. They do, however, run the risk of crying “wolf!” too often when they call everything from store clerks wishing people “Happy Holidays” to vandalism by juvenile delinquents to same-sex marriage to questioning how charitable donations are spent a “war” against them.

    We expect the state to protect us against “charities” soliciting money from us using false representation or misusing the funds. Why is it a “war” — or improper — to ask for oversight BY PARISHIONERS of the millions of dollars the Catholic church in CT solicits from its members, especially if the parishioners themselves are calling for oversight?

  23. Working link to the New Haven Register article:
    http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2009/03/09/news/a1-necatholics.txt

    The article quotes Catholics in addition to the parishioners of St. John’s in Darien who also had a hand in requesting and shaping the legislation. At least one is part of the (inter)national movement Voices of the Faithful.
    http://www.votf.org/

    The call for change in the Church is an internal Catholic movement, not a “war on Catholicism” from the outside. Bishop Lori and his political pals are completely misrepresenting the issue.

    The FIC is cranking up the hysteria. As usual their propaganda is filled with less-than-half truths.

    Whatever happened to that pesky “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness” commandment, eh?

  24. The call for change in the Church is an internal Catholic movement, not a “war on Catholicism” from the outside. Bishop Lori and his political pals are completely misrepresenting the issue.

    KTinkel – sure its a war. In this instance, the STATE is dictating how to run a CHURCH. Period. If the parishioners of the church in Darien had a problem with their church, they don’t need to amend STATE LAW to apply to all the other churches in the state that run just fine.

    Those parishioners have plenty of other options to pursue. The Bishop could impose rules, and the Church has its own organization for doing so.

    What organizations do you belong to? Do you pay dues? An occaissional contribution? Membership fee? Perhaps its a scout troop, Lions Club, Breakfast Club or Football pool. How about the STATE come in and tell you that a committee will be formed to govern your group – even though you already set up rules. Because we don’t like your rules – and we’re the state with your best interests at heart.

    We know what the previous weeks attendance at all services was, and how we’re doing financially to the dime, every week; it’s printed in the bulletin.

    Most Catholic churches also publish these numbers in their bulletin’s. If your parish does not, I suggest you complain to the Bishop for an investigation. (No, the Church isn’t, and doesn’t need to be more mysterious than that. Pull out your Catechism book. Or Canon Law. Its really not that complicated.)

    It was pointed out to me this evening that, because the Catholic church solicits contributions (which are tax exempt) from the public, it is may indeed be subject to scrutiny by the state, just the same as any other charitable organization that asks people for money for charitable purposes.

    Its not a “solicitation”, but a TAX. Or to use religious-speak, a “TITHE”. Traditionally, 10% of your income should go to the church. This was imposed by Jesus, and many Protestants and Jews adhere to this more strictly than Catholics (another option is Tithing 5% to the church and 5% to charity). Its not a pyramid scheme, KTinkel. Money runs the organizations. Counseling (marriage, death, crisis situations, etc.) , missionary work (which often includes humanitarian assistance and development), education (your local Catholic schools), orphanages, and the Catholic Hospitals which assist patients of all backgrounds in he cities.

    As a practical matter, tithing encorages financial restraint and responsibility. Maybe that’s something the STATE should practice. There most definitly are more important matters to address during this session.

  25. If the bill isn’t effectively a declaration of war against one denomination, why is only one named specifically in the content?

  26. scanman1722

    Those parishioners have plenty of other options to pursue. The Bishop could impose rules, and the Church has its own organization for doing so.

    This bill is an absolute joke. The legislature has no place in the financial structure of a private church, let alone regulating jush one faith as is the case with this bill.

  27. If the bill isn’t effectively a declaration of war against one denomination, why is only one named specifically in the content?

    As mentioned elsewhere in the thread, most other denominations have lay boards and at least some kind of transparency. The Catholic church does not.

    So far as I am aware, members of no other denomination petitioned the state government for action, and no complaints have been made against the financial dealings of other denominations.

  28. So far as I am aware, members of no other denomination petitioned the state government for action, and no complaints have been made against the financial dealings of other denominations.

    That may be true. But just because someone asks their representative to do something doesn’t mean it should be done. A bunch of angry Catholics come in to your office and say that their parish is a mess and there is a bunch of corruption blah blah blah. At that point, the representative should have said “Look I hear you but there is nothing that I can do – your problem is a problem that you need to solve in your own parish.” End of story. How the church handles the money they collect is their own business. If you don’t like what they do or feel that one bad apple priest who stole some money is a representation of all priests then leave the church. This, to me, is a no brainer.

  29. Those parishioners have plenty of other options to pursue. The Bishop could impose rules, and the Church has its own organization for doing so.

    What are those options? There is actually only ONE option available: those Catholics must obey or leave the Catholic church.

    As for the Bishop imposing rules, he hasn’t and he has indicated that he will not. The Church’s “own organization” does not include lay members.

    What organizations do you belong to? Do you pay dues? An occaissional contribution? Membership fee? Perhaps its a scout troop, Lions Club, Breakfast Club or Football pool. How about the STATE come in and tell you that a committee will be formed to govern your group – even though you already set up rules. Because we don’t like your rules – and we’re the state with your best interests at heart.

    I have belonged to serveral organizations, have sat on the boards of several , and have led a couple. ALL financial dealings were completely open to all the members. We were, after all, using their donations to accomplish certain goals. They had every right to not only see how the money was being spent, but every right to participate in the decision-making on how the money was spent. So there was no need for the state to get involved.

    Most Catholic churches also publish these numbers in their bulletin’s.

    The parish may publish how much it has taken in. Does it publish where each dollar goes?

    Its not a “solicitation”, but a TAX. Or to use religious-speak, a “TITHE”.

    If we’re going into semantics, it’s a tax-deductible contribution to a non-profit organization. If it isn’t mandated for membership, then it’s requested. And a request is a solicitation. Aside from the weekly collection, the diocese makes appeals (solicitations) for additional funds throughout the year for various purposes.

  30. That may be true. But just because someone asks their representative to do something doesn’t mean it should be done. A bunch of angry Catholics come in to your office and say that their parish is a mess and there is a bunch of corruption blah blah blah. At that point, the representative should have said “Look I hear you but there is nothing that I can do – your problem is a problem that you need to solve in your own parish.” End of story. How the church handles the money they collect is their own business. If you don’t like what they do or feel that one bad apple priest who stole some money is a representation of all priests then leave the church. This, to me, is a no brainer.

    So you are saying that the state should never investigate the misuse of citizens’ money? That the state should never seek to insure that those corporations/charities/etc. that solicit funds from people actually use those funds properly?

    Or are you saying that it’s just religions who have carte blance with other peoples’ money?

    That may be true. But just because someone asks their representative to do something doesn’t mean it should be done. A bunch of angry Catholics come in to your office and say that their parish is a mess and there is a bunch of corruption blah blah blah. At that point, the representative should have said “Look I hear you but there is nothing that I can do – your problem is a problem that you need to solve in your own parish.” End of story. How the church handles the money they collect is their own business. If you don’t like what they do or feel that one bad apple priest who stole some money is a representation of all priests then leave the church. This, to me, is a no brainer.

  31. What are those options? There is actually only ONE option available: those Catholics must obey or leave the Catholic church.

    So then maybe they should leave. There’s no law that says they have to stay members of the Catholic church. If you don’t like the way a non-profit or a religion is structured, you can always leave and not donate any more money. But should the state really dictate the structure of such organizations? I know that in this case, there was fraud, but Fay is in jail now.

  32. wtfdnucsailor

    Most Catholic parishes have a finance committee that assists the pastor in managing the parish dollars. In the Norwich diocese, there is a requirement for an annual accounting to the parish of the revenues and expenses of the parish. In my own parish, it is done by the chairperson of the finance committee verbally at all the Masses and also published in the parish bulletin. I don’t believe that it is necessary or proper for State Statutes to specify how the parish should be organized.

  33. CrankyYankee71

    This bill (or law, if passed) is DOA on Constitutional grounds. But, if passed, it will cost CT taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees for Blumenthal’s office to defend and, ultimately, lose.

    Don’t pass a law that cannot stand judicial scrutiny. (And, don’t give me an argument that it is the court’s job to apply Constitutional scrutiny. Legislators take an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution just like judges.)

    By the way, there is zero chance that Blumenthal would actually argue this one himself because despite his insatiable appetite for the camera. He will punt because, just like defending the state in the civil union/no gay-marriage law, he will not want to alienate large groups of people. He is big old chicken when it comes to possibily ruffling the feathers of any large voting block. He will send out some deputy to argue and then, when his office loses, he will say, “we tried to defend the law but we got beat so we must listen to the court.” Or, perhaps, he will even prevent that deputy from making valid and winning legal arguments so that the state actually loses by forfeit, like he did with the the civil union/no gay marriage law.

    This bill is a waste of time and tax dollars.

  34. Or are you saying that it’s just religions who have carte blance with other peoples’ money?

    Once the money’s put in the plate, it’s not your money anymore.

    Other religious groups use their resources to promote all sorts of stuff too; if it’s far left stuff is that okay with you?

  35. If Blumenthal was going to get involved personally on this one, maybe I’d be for it, because it would definitely lose, and it’d prevent Blumenthal from doing other stuff while he was engaged in this quixotic campaign…

  36. …no complaints have been made against the financial dealings of other denominations.

    Because we simply left.

  37. It is a touchy church/ state issue, I can see that. I guess one justification of the state’s intervention is that the church doesn’t pay taxes. Most non-profit organizations have extensive financial transparency to keep their tax-exempt status. There are mechanisms in place to ensure that. If the church doesn’t want to be remotely transparent, maybe it should start paying taxes.

    I do think that if I were a parishioner who thought the church was misusing my donations, I would probably stop giving them.

  38. scanman1722

    I do think that if I were a parishioner who thought the church was misusing my donations, I would probably stop giving them.

    Exactly. It’s not like the Catholic church just started being secretive yesterday; this is the way they’ve operated….for centuries. If you don’t like it, don’t put money in the basket or find a new church. Don’t lobby the government to tell your church how it’s run.

  39. Once the money’s put in the plate, it’s not your money anymore.

    And once people gave their money to Bernie Madoff, was it also no longer theirs? Quick, send this to him and maybe he won’t have to plead guilty after all!

  40. KTinkle,

    Get your facts straight. You can purchase a Catholic Catechism at any religious bookstore.

    otherwise, clearly you think the state can cure ANYTHING.

    And by the way, my question about you organizations wasn’t a question whether you thoguht the state should get involved, because Catholics do not believe it should be in their institution. But if a member- any member – of one of yours, called on the state to be – then they would. Period. Against your will. Enjoy it.

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