Catholic World News

Connecticut lawmakers withdraw legislation governing Church parish affairs

March 11, 2009

Rep. Michael P. Lawlor and Sen. Andrew J. McDonald-- co-charimen of the Connecticut legislature’s judiciary committee-- announced on March 10 that they would withdraw controversial legislation that would have placed parish finances and outreach under the control of elected lay boards.

The Catholic bishops of Connecticut had vehemently objected to the proposed legislation, saying that it was an unwarranted intrusion into Church affairs and a violation of religious freedom. Although they welcomed the withdrawal of the proposal, the bishops-- who had encouraged Catholics to rally at the state capitol in opposition to the bill-- remained cautious, uncertain whether the legislation might be revived at some later date.

A group of law professors, organized by Douglas Laycock of the University of Michigan, wrote to Connecticut lawmakers to express opposition to the bill, saying that it "would impose a Protestant form of organization on the Catholic Church." The legal scholars wrote:

The bill is unconstitutional as a matter of first principle; it is unconstitutional under repeated decisions of the Supreme Court. It is a flagrant interference with a contested matter of faith. It is worthy of the anti-Catholic bigots of 1854; it is unworthy of Connecticut in the age of religious liberty and mutual respect among faiths.

The sponsors of the legislation-- which had strong backing from the activist Catholic group Voice of the Faithful-- had argued that existing state laws allowing parishes to incorporate under the aegis of a bishop were themselves unconstitutional. The sponsors have asked the state's attorney general to deliver an opinion on the constitutionality of the existing law and their proposed change.

“It would serve no useful purpose to have a conversation about changing the laws that govern existing Roman Catholic corporations until we know if any of these existing laws are constitutional,” the co-chairmen said in a statement. “We think it would be more appropriate to invite representatives from all religious denominations around the state, together with legal scholars on this topic, to participate in a forum regarding the current law.”

 


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