Connecticut Catholics Protest State Interference

Bishop Says Bill Threatens Religious Liberty

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HARTFORD, Connecticut, MARCH 11, 2009 ( Catholics rallied today at the Connecticut capitol building to fight a bill that one of their bishops said “directly attacks the structure of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport said he received word last Thursday of a hearing scheduled for today for a new bill proposed by the state’s judiciary committee that would restructure the organization of a parish to exclude the pastor. The meeting was later postponed.

He said in an address to school principals Friday, “Our Church in the state of Connecticut is facing an unprecedented intrusion by the state legislature into its own internal affairs.”

The proposed bill would restructure the parish from a nonprofit corporation directed by a board including the bishop, two clergy and two lay people, to an organization operated by a board of seven to 13 elected lay people. This board would exclude the pastor and include the bishop only as an advisory member.

The prelate noted: “This parish board would have virtually unchecked powers […]. Your bishop would have virtually no relationship with the 87 parishes. They could go off independently. They could break off and go their own way. The pastors would be figureheads, simply working for a board of trustees.”

The dioceses of Bridgeport and Hartford issued statements Tuesday reporting that today’s hearing was postponed, but added that the bill is still alive and that it must be protested as unconstitutional.

Bishop Lori said: “You have to understand how radically this departs from the teaching of the Church and the discipline of the Church, and how gravely unconstitutional it is for a state to try to move in and reorganize the internal structure of a Church. It is a grave violation of religious liberty.”

He asserted: “This is a thinly veiled attempt to silence the Church on important issues of the day, but especially with regard to marriage. The judiciary committee is driving this to dismantle the Church as best as they can.”

The committee announced that they decided to “table any further consideration of this bill for the duration of this session, and ask the attorney general his opinion regarding the constitutionality of the existing law.”

Meanwhile, the Bridgeport Diocese stated: “While we are pleased by this action, we are not convinced that this unconstitutional bill is dead.”

It called Catholics to rally today “to speak personally and passionately in defense of religious freedom and the First Amendment rights of the U.S. Constitution.”

It continued: “The state should be celebrating the Roman Catholic Church, not denigrating it. Let’s work together for the common good.”

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