Declaring that the defense of religious liberty is "genuine patriotism," Bishop of Bridgeport William Lori has thanked the Catholics of Connecticut for helping derail a senate bill he called a "legislative attack." The bishop also rebuked the bill’s sponsoring senator and said he has no business interfering with the Catholic Church or any other church.
The Connecticut Senate’s S.B. 1098 targeted the Catholic Church for financial reorganization and would have stripped Catholic bishops and pastors of their governing roles. Though the bill was withdrawn on Tuesday, thousands of protesters attended a Wednesday rally against the bill.
"Thousands of you, the Catholics of Connecticut rejected this unconstitutional piece of legislation built upon a pretext," Bishop Lori wrote in a March 12 entry on his blog. "So many of you called and e-mailed State Senator Andrew McDonald and State Representative Michael Lawlor and the members of Judiciary Committee that the phone system at the State Capitol shut down and the e-mail addresses of legislators were overwhelmed."
Noting that the hearing on the bill was canceled by the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, the bishop said:
"In bringing this about you showed real love for your Church and for your country. With all my heart, I thank you."
He said believers and citizens should remain "alert" and "on guard" against other legislation unfriendly to the Church or efforts to silence the Church on current issues.
"Religious freedom may have dodged a bullet, but the struggle isn’t over. Other salvos are coming," he warned, defending the constitutionality of existing Connecticut religious corporation statutes.
"After all the protest and expert testimony, Senator McDonald still doesn’t get it," Bishop Lori asserted. "He regrets that he didn’t have a more ‘inclusive’ forum. He has no business having any forum about the Catholic Church or any church."
"I will be calling on you from time to time to defend the Catholic Church here in the Constitution State. Defending religious liberty is genuine patriotism," the bishop said.
In his statement, Bishop Lori praised the United States’ "unique" relationship between Church and State. First Amendment restrictions, he said, bar churches from playing an official governmental role and also keep the government out of the affairs of churches.
However, he cautioned, some people throughout U.S. history have tried to alter that arrangement "for their own purposes."
"In recent years, some government officials have sought to attack religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular, in an effort to make an already secular society virtually religion-free in matters of public policy," he added, characterizing S.B. 1098 as one such example.
"The proposed bill was aimed only at the Catholic Church. No other religious organization in the state was mentioned," he remarked. According to the bishop, the bill’s authors were responding to complaints of parishioners following an embezzlement scandal at St. John Parish in Darien.
"The four disgruntled people who pushed this bill don’t even belong to Saint John’s which, by the way, is flourishing," he said in his blog entry, reporting that the lay leadership of the parish has told him they are pleased with their pastor and the financial management system the diocese has put in place.
"This bill was introduced without any notice or consultation of any kind with the bishops of Connecticut and was put on a legislative fast track to preempt effective opposition," Bishop Lori reported, noting that the plan "didn’t work" because of protests against it.
He compared "this kind of legislative attack" to the efforts of the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party, which he said gained control of the legislature in the 1850s and used "trusteeism" as a "ploy" to try to cripple the Church.
"The 19th-century attack on the Church was the product of anti-Catholic bigotry in its time, and this 21st-century attack is nothing less than an updated form of anti-Catholic bigotry," Bishop Lori charged.