Following a deluge of phone calls and emails, the bill introduced in the Connecticut Senate to reorganize the financial and pastoral structure of the Catholic Church has been pulled and tabled for the rest of the legislative session.
Meanwhile, Sen. Andrew MacDonald and Rep. Michael Lawlor, the sponsors of the bill, have sent it to the state Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, to determine if it passes constitutional muster. The two lawmakers also canceled a hearing on the bill set to take place tomorrow at noon.
Despite the bill being pulled, the Diocese of Bridgeport is telling its members that the bill is still a possibility and that they are planning on proceeding with plans to rally against the proposed legislation.
"Furthermore," says a statement from the diocese, "we are deeply concerned about statements made by elected officials suggesting that Connecticut's existing religious corporation statutes, including those applicable to the Roman Catholic Church, are unconstitutional and should be amended. These statements are misinformed."
After pulling S.B. 1098, Sen. McDonald and Rep. Lawlor issued a statement saying that they believe Connecticut’s statutes treat some religions differently than others and that "many of our existing corporate laws dealing with particular religious groups appear to us to be unconstitutional under the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."
"If that is correct," the legislators reason, "any changes to that law would likely also be unconstitutional."
But the Diocese of Bridgeport disagreed arguing that "Connecticut's religious corporation statutes have been upheld by Connecticut courts for over a century precisely because they do not entangle the State in religious governance. Rather, they defer to the rules and governance structure adopted by each religious denomination, and thereby respect the religious freedoms of each denomination, as required by the First Amendment and our state Constitution."
"No court has ever found Connecticut’s religious corporation statutes to be unconstitutional, and there is no reason for the legislature to tamper with them," the diocese states.
The diocese also addresses the origins of Bill 1098, asserting that it "was based on a falsehood perpetuated by a few disgruntled individuals that the Roman Catholic Church has no financial controls in place. In actuality, the Diocese has in place one of the most accountable and transparent systems in the United States, including a whistle-blower that minimizes the risk of fraud."
McDonald and Lawlor say that they plan to convene a meeting of legal scholars and religious leaders to study the issue further. They also say that "we think it would be most beneficial if the proponents who requested these changes and church officials meet together privately to see if they can come to a resolution on their own."