Sunday, March 8, 2009

Trusteeism bill in CT

Subvet brought this very troubling piece of news to my attention...

Apparently, the judicial committee has proposed a bill (1098) in the General Assembly here in CT that is aimed directly at the Roman Catholic Church in this state.

I have quite a bit to say on the matter, so bear with me if I'm a little around and about in this post. Disclaimer: I am not a legal scholar and nothing here constitutes a legitimate legal opinion. What follows are my own commonsense assessments of this situation.

It seems to me that Michael Lawlor, one of the reps who introduced the bill, has done his research into the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, because this bill aims to revise the confrontations surrounding trusteeism that were ended in the late eighteenth/ early nineteenth centuries, with the intention of undermining the authority of the Bishops. When the U.S. was still a mission territory (officially) many parishes were owned by the lay people who started them. This led to disagreements between the parish and the local bishop regarding the appointments of pastors and the assets of the church. For instance, the parishioners could fire the pastor or refuse the appointment of the priest sent by the bishop. If I understand it correctly, dioceses are now considered "corporations sole," meaning that ultimately, all ownership rests with the person of the local bishop.

Bill 1098 as proposed would essentially cut the bishop and the pastor off from financial authority within the parish, placing the ownership and stewardship of parish assets in the hands of a 7-13 lay member financial committee.

The biggest question that comes to my mind is "Why?" Why is this bill being proposed here in CT? Why is it being proposed now?

Purportedly, one reason the bill was written was to address a recent case of financial malfeasance/ misappropriation of funds in a Catholic parish in CT. The new law would provide a framework for proper investigation of such deeds. However, the bill goes far beyond that need and focuses strongly on re-organizing the total corporate legal structure of all Roman Catholic parishes in the state. There is no state interest in such a change.

There must be other motivations at work here. Michael Lawlor has already shown himself to be opposed to the Church's teaching on some moral matters, gay marriage specifically.

I don't intend to vilify Mr. Lawlor, but it seems to me that the intention behind this bill is to undermine the authority and strength of the Catholic bishops. Directly, this will essentially cut the bishop and the pastor out of much of the decision making within the Church, relegating them to chaplain status.

Some commentators have suggested that this bill is unconstitutional, which I believe as well, and let us suppose for a moment that the bill doesn't even pass. This is yet another instance of the bishops asking the laity to vocalize their opposition to the state or Federal legislature on consequential issues. With all that has already passed in Connecticut despite the opposition of the Church (gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research funding, the death penalty, Plan B contraception) this may symbolize to some a lesser moral issue, not worth getting energized about. Or this could just lead to people becoming indifferent, as in, "What is it this week?"

But if it does pass, is this just laying the groundwork for more ill to come? As Brian Brown of the CT Family Institute points out in the hearing featured in the video link above, if the state views the Church as an organization of bigots, then it will treat the Church as an organization of bigots. The Church will become a target of reparations. And if the authority of the bishops in mobilizing the faithful is weakened, the state may then be able to accomplish more of its immoral agenda (think FoCA, forced abortions, euthanasia).

Jack Smith of the Catholic Key posts about this development here and raises the possibility that this is suggested by the Voices of the Faithful. While I won't speculate whether VotF is directly involved, it does play into their agenda of taking control of the Church away from the bishops. Opportunistically, VotF was persistent in declaring that the sex abuse crisis was a consequence of the hierarchical structure of Church governance, implying that it is necessary to have more lay control of parish life and teaching of the Church. Failing to achieve revision of Church authority by internal means, this current bill would succeed in their intended power grab by recourse to state intervention. Interestingly, such a seizure of Church assets would lessen the bishops' authority while not decreasing their liability in cases such as abuse by priests.

So what happens now? First, let me point to the commentary on the Catholic Key post above. Cassandra gives insightful clues as to how this will likely play out legally. Her assessment of the USCCB and the response of the laity is frighteningly convincing. Given that the state legislature here in CT has successfully rammed gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research and most recently Plan B contraception down the throats of Catholic opposition (though I think Plan B was an instance of the CT Catholic Conference caving unnecessarily) I'm afraid this will pass, despite our vocal disagreement. The legislators who support this measure may feel secure in their seats, as CT continues to become more liberal and hostile to the moral authority of the Church and I wonder where we might go from here?

I will reserve such reflections until, God forbid, they are needed. It is necessary now to oppose this legislation and I pray that we will succeed.

Please contact Senator Andrew McDonald of Stamford and Rep. Michael Lawlor of East Haven who chair the committee that introduced this bill.

Sen. McDonald: 1-800-842-1420

Rep. Lawlor: 1-800-842-8267

If you are in the area and can attend, please come to the public hearing in Hartford this Wednesday, March 11 at Noon, Room 2C of the Executive Office Building.

This is not a precedent that should be set for other states to follow.


matthew archbold said...

Can you make it to the meeting?

Mike in CT said...

It doesn't look like I can make it, but my wife is currently organizing a caravan up to the capital. I'll see what I can post as a follow up.

I'm also contacting the sponsors of the bill today as well as my own rep and senator and will post their responses. Someone called into Laura Ingraham's show this morning and said that he contacted Gov. Rell's office who said that she does not plan to be involved unless it passes. What leadership!

Leticia said...

Thanks for the great coverage, Mike, I am sure the Friars will do something on this. I wish I weren't working, but at my school (Academy of the Holy Family) we are onto it, emailing, praying and spreading the news.

Sr. Christine said...

Hi, Mike ... thanks for your thoughts. I've been talking about the bill with many people here in Missouri, and we're present with all of you in Connecticut in prayer.