Conn. Bill on Restructuring Catholic Church Pulled

A controversial bill that would allow Connecticut lawmakers to reconfigure the governing structure of the Catholic Church was pulled Tuesday.

A public meeting on the proposal scheduled Wednesday was canceled by the legislature's judiciary committee.

The legislation, Connecticut Bill 1098, would have essentially taken power away from Catholic priests and bishops and place it in the hands of lay members of a separate board that would oversee church finances in local parishes. The measure would give an archbishop or bishop an ex-officio position on the board without the right to vote.

The stated purpose of the bill was "to revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church and provide for the investigation of the misappropriation of funds by religious corporations."

The bill sparked outrage from the Catholic community. As news of the bill spread, the Legislative Office Building was flooded with telephone calls and e-mails this week.

Opponents to the bill, which included the Senate Republican caucus, said it was unconstitutional and was a threat to religious freedom.

Senate Republican leader John McKinney had called upon Democratic leaders to cancel Wednesday's hearing.

"If government can change the Catholic religion, then it can change any religion," he said, according to The Hartford Courant's blog, Capitol Watch.

Democratic co-chairs of the judiciary committee, Rep. Michael P. Lawlor and Sen. Andrew McDonald, who introduced the bill said in a joint statement Tuesday that they decided to cancel the public hearing and shelve the bill for the remainder of the legislative session at the request of proponents of legislation.

The hearing will be postponed until Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has reviewed the constitutionality of existing laws, according to Lawlor and McDonald.

"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 judiciary committee co-chairs stated.

The idea for the bill came from Tom Gallagher, a Catholic activist who has advocated that lay people be given greater responsibilities within the church, according to The Hartford Courant. The Greenwich resident said priest sexual-abuse scandals and cases of financial misconduct motivated him to ask lawmakers to intervene, the Connecticut-based paper reported.

Bill Donahue, president of Catholic League, a religious and civil rights watchdog, said the push for the bill came from activists behind "left-wing" Catholic papers, the Voice of the Faithful and the National Catholic Reporter, which he said have indicated support for a civil law approach to parish governance.

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