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Power, politics and freedom of religion

By Lisa Fabrizio
web posted March 16, 2009

The history of the Catholic Church in the state of Connecticut has never been pretty. Until 1818, the Congregational Church was the official religion, and the few Catholics who lived in the state were obliged to pay taxes toward its support. They were also  forbidden to own land and under the auspices of Know-Nothing Party Governor William T. Minor, the Church suffered greatly. Yet faithful Catholics and other freedom-loving citizens of Connecticut saw to it that those wrongs were eventually righted.

Indeed, Article VII of the Connecticut Constitution reads, in part: "No preference shall be given by law to any religious society or denomination in the state. Each shall have and enjoy the same and equal powers, rights and privileges, and may support and maintain the ministers or teachers of its society or denomination, and may build and repair houses for public worship." (Author's emphasis)

Unfortunately, our local lawmakers, much like their federal brethren, seem to have trouble processing certain multi-syllabic words and phrases like "equal powers, rights and privileges" and "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Because the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature, which is chaired by Sen. Andrew McDonald, have proposed Bill No. 1098, which seeks to remove financial control of Catholic Church parishes from the Church itself.

Yet in an almost comical attempt at placating the Church, the bill includes this line:  "Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit, restrict or derogate from any power, right, authority, duty or responsibility of the bishop or pastor in matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices." What too many legislators and far too many Catholics fail to realize, is that this very law abrogates the Church's "religious tenets and practices" The Catholic Church is, "one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic;" that is, it must be guided by bishops who can trace their succession back to the Apostles.

Equally absurd is that the section (33-280) immediately following the one to be amended, is to be left in tact. It reads in part: "Such corporation may receive and hold all property conveyed to it for the purpose of maintaining religious worship according to the doctrine, discipline and ritual of the Roman Catholic Church, and for the support of the educational or charitable institutions of that church." (Author's emphasis) I don't want to bore anyone with tiresome details, but those interested in this "doctrine, discipline and ritual" as it pertains to the  conduct of parish financial affairs may dive into the Church's Code of Canon Law beginning with Canons 1284-1287.

Nearly four days after details of the proposed bill--which was issued without a statement of authorship or sponsorship--were released, McDonald and his Judiciary Committee cohort, Rep. Michael Lawlor, released a statement saying that the bill was "proposed and written by a group of faithful Catholic parishioners from Fairfield County who asked the Judiciary Committee to consider giving the subject a public hearing." Here, they refer to some of the unfortunate parishioners of St. John's Church in Darien, whose homosexual pastor was convicted of robbing the parish to the tune of seven figures and was the subject of endless news coverage.

But, notwithstanding the troubling fact that proposed legislation may be actually written by unelected citizens--justifiable though their concerns may be--one must also question Mr. McDonald's identification of these "faithful" Catholics. As anyone familiar with Connecticut politics knows, McDonald and Lawlor, both of whom are gay, have locked horns with the hierarchy of the Church before. And as anyone familiar with the Catholic Church in Connecticut knows, there are a marginal group of self-identified Catholics who call themselves The Voice of the Faithful.

This group has been banned from meeting on Church property in the Diocese of Bridgeport because of its quaint, anti-Roman views as expressed in its motto, "Keep the Faith, Change the Church." And if some of us are suspicious of Sen. McDonald's claims that Bill 1098 was written only by aggrieved St. John's parishioners, a good place to look would be at one of VOTF's press releases which calls for, among other things; "the right of the faithful, as members of parish corporations with the bishop and pastor, to own church property."

VOTF has also helpfully included a handy-dandy guide which amplifies these goals. Included is this language for the implementation of their agenda: "A parish corporation consisting of all registered parishioners, the bishop, and the pastor should be established. The officers and directors should be elected by the parishioners. The bishop and the pastor should serve ex officio. The corporation should have the authority to use, administer, and maintain parish property, to acquire new property, or to sell unneeded property."

Which sounds suspiciously like that supposedly authored solely by the St. John's parishioners: "The corporation shall have a board of directors consisting of not less than seven nor more than thirteen lay members [elected from among the lay members of the congregation at an annual meeting of the corporation]. The archbishop or bishop of the diocese or his designee shall serve as an ex-officio member of the board of directors without the right to vote."

One standing outside of all this might wonder; why don't those unhappy with Roman Catholic doctrine and hierarchy just go to a church more attuned with their beliefs and desires? After all, isn't this the reason why our Pilgrim forefathers emigrated here to begin with; in order that they could practice their religion without government interference?

Because these confused Catholics are the useful tools of those who would use this bill as a warning shot across the bow of Connecticut bishops who themselves have threatened to shut down Catholic hospitals and other humanitarian services in the state should legislation like the insidious Freedom of Choice Act pass. This abuse of a government's power to silence its foes should be opposed not just by faithful Catholics, or even merely by people of faith; it should be shouted down by all lovers of liberty, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. ESR

Lisa Fabrizio is a columnist who hails from Connecticut. You may write her at mailbox@lisafab.com.

 

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