Thousands of Connecticut Catholics rallied at the state capitol on Wednesday to protest a proposed state law which would have reorganized the financial and pastoral structure of the Catholic Church.
Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport had warned that the bill “directly attacks the structure of the Roman Catholic Church.” The bill itself requires that parish pastors report to the board of directors about all “administrative and financial matters.” The archbishop or bishop would serve as an “ex-officio” member and would lose his voting rights.
Bishop Lori argued the bill, S.B. 1098, would remove any real relationship between the parish and the bishop and would turn pastors into “figureheads.”
S.B. 1098 was pulled on Tuesday, following protests from Catholics and others who saw it as a clearly unconstitutional proposal.
Despite their apparent victory, the Catholic rally went forward at the capitol’s north steps at noon today.
Footage from local news coverage showed protesters waving printed signs reading “Religious Freedom” while others carried homemade posters.
One such poster read “My faithful voice says: stop dividing my Church!” Another said “We the People, not the politicians – In God we trust, not the Politicians – Protect our God-given rights,” while a third read “Connecticut legislators, please STOP harassing the Catholic Church.”
Many protesters had been bused in from area parishes.
Filomena Moura from Monroe, Connecticut told WFSB she was there “to tell our representatives that we are for the freedom of religion and the separation of religion and state.”
Speakers at the rally included Bishop Lori, Archbishop of Hartford Henry Mansell, Bishop of Norwich Michael Cote and Supreme Knight of Columbus Carl Anderson.
Anderson characterized the proposal as an attack on the Catholic Church which would “turn back the clock 150 years,” referring to anti-Catholic legislation instated by the Know Nothing movement.
The bill would also have a chilling effect on the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech, he argued.
Some estimates put the crowd at around 4,000 people, while a reporter with HeadlineBistro.com estimated two to three thousand were present.
According to HeadlineBistro.com, Bishop Lori called on the sponsoring legislators to apologize to the people of Connecticut. He told the crowd that even a first year law student would know better than to propose S.B. 1098.
Archbishop Mansell said the proposed law has embarrassed the state and the legislators, arguing that it makes no sense for a state with a $1 billion deficit to tell the Church how to run its finances.
According to HeadlineBistro, the crowd at times began spontaneous performances of “God Bless America” and at other times directed their ire towards legislators, chanting “Throw them out!” and “We vote!”
The day before the rally, State Senator L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich spoke against the bill. He called it an “unconstitutional attack on the intrinsic separation of church and state… to see that freedom so blatantly diluted by this legislation is something I will oppose every step of the way.”
“The bill should never have made it to the point of a public hearing,” he said, noting that the entire Senate Republican Caucus opposes the bill.
According to a statement from Sen. Frantz’s office, the bill would also allow any person who suspected money donated to the Church has been used for purposes other than those the donor intended to report the claim to the state Attorney General, who must then investigate and take necessary action.
The controversial legislation had been introduced last week by the chairs of the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature, Senator Andrew McDonald of Stamford and Representative Michael Lawlor of East Haven.
Both lawmakers are prominent homosexuals who have been vociferous advocates of same-sex marriage in Connecticut and have spoken out against the Catholic Church’s opposition to both civil unions and same-sex marriage.
The lawmakers said they had introduced the legislation at the request of two constituents, who on Tuesday requested the legislation be withdrawn.
“It is clear to me that my attempt to create a forum for a group of concerned Catholic constituents to discuss their legislative proposals regarding parish corporate finances has offended a group of similarly devout Catholic parishioners,” McDonald said in a Wednesday statement, saying he intended no offense.
Julie Winkel, Director of Media Relations at the University of New Haven, informed CNA in an e-mail that a university accounting faculty member named Mary J. Miller, has consulted with the Diocese of Bridgeport in 2007 and 2008 to standardize parish accounting systems and to design new parish internal controls, policies and procedures.
“[Miller] notes that the systems put in place at the Diocese of Bridgeport have actually became a national model to other Catholic Dioceses as well as non-Catholic denominations, making additional oversight and this bill unnecessary,” Winkel told CNA. “She is currently working with Archdioceses of Chicago and Boston and the Diocese of Dallas to implement the standard Parish accounting systems of the ‘Bridgeport Plan’.”