Religion and Spirituality

Connecticut Catholic Church regulation bill

Lay Catholics Seek More Church Oversight in Connecticut

March 12, 2009 01:03 PM
by Anne Szustek
Concerned by flagging parish finances, Connecticut Catholics asked the state to intervene in church administration, but the bill died in committee.

Proposal to Administer Church Finances Fails in Conn. Legislature

A decrease in church membership, parish closings and incidents of alleged money mismanagement drove some Connecticut Catholics to push for greater say in how their parishes’ secular affairs are conducted. Greenwich, Conn. resident Tom Gallagher asked for state legislators’ help in their cause.

Gallagher, a former securities lawyer who has done pro bono work for the Catholic religious order once led by Mother Teresa, said that he was acting out of a “love of the church,” as the Hartford Courant put it.

Conn. State Senate bill 1098 was intended to "revise the corporate governance provisions [of Connecticut's statutes] applicable to the Roman Catholic Church," as cited by the Connecticut Post. It would have laid out provisions for lay church councils of seven to 13 parishioners to administer parish finances, putting Catholic clergy in an advisory role.

The Conn. state legislature’s judiciary committee killed the bill on Tuesday over concerns that it was unconstitutional, although it may be reviewed again. Monsignor John J. McCarthy, who is a clergy member in Hartford’s Catholic archdiocese, told the Hartford Courant that church law stipulates that pastors take the wishes of their congregations into account. “The laity do have a voice,” he told the paper. “They don’t have the definitive voice … but they certainly have a voice.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of Connecticut Catholics who saw the bill as an unnecessary intrusion into church affairs planned to head to Hartford on Wednesday to voice their opposition.

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Background: Lay Catholics unite for greater say in the church

In recent years, more lay Catholics have publicly expressed their desire to play an active role in Church administration and policy. Voice of the Faithful was founded in 2002 in the basement of a Wellesley, Mass., church in response to the priest sex-abuse scandal. Now with a membership of more than 30,000, the group seeks to effect change starting at the level of individual parishes, the members of which should “enthusiastically support the formation and actions of Pastoral and Finance Councils and Safety Committees,” writes VOTF on its Web site. “We must empower the laity to protect our children and all the people of God.”

Within a year after the national organization’s founding, the Long Island wing of the Catholic action group offered to assist the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., with its $15 million fundraising drive—as long as the church agreed to make its accounting transparent. The diocese’s rejection of the offer was indicative of the growing rift at the time between it and VOTF over alleged instances of sex abuse.

"[T]here are no allegations the Rockville Centre diocese has paid off victims to keep silent about abuse," reported the Associated Press in 2003, "but critics nationwide say limits on financial disclosure have allowed dioceses elsewhere to make such payments."

Four years later, the nationwide group had made headway in getting some dioceses to open their books, be forthcoming with information about alleged sex abuse cases and allow for more involvement by lay parishioners. During that same time period, donations to VOTF had declined, leading the organization to confront more controversial issues, such as the celibacy of priests, in a bid to attract more members.

Related Topic: Alternative Catholic denomination in Connecticut ordains gay priests

At a recent mass held in New Haven, Conn., by alternative Catholic denomination North American Old Catholic Church, three out of the four priests ordained were openly gay. NAOCC Archbishop Michael Seneco, who is also openly gay, said he and his colleagues believe the stances that the Roman Catholic Church has taken on homosexuality and female priests don’t jibe with Jesus’ teachings. The Roman Catholic Church, however, does not approve of their actions.

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