Faith leaders form coalition against Massachusetts’ financial disclosure bill

Non-Catholic religious leaders in Massachusetts have sided with the Archdiocese of Boston against a state bill that would require religious denominations and congregations to publicly disclose their finances and real estate holdings.

Religious leaders said they understand why Catholic laypeople may be frustrated with archdiocesan leadership and want them to disclose their finances, but said people need to work within their own denomination and not look to the government to resolve their internal issues, reported the Boston Globe.

The religious leaders vowed to fight this bill in the Legislature and, if necessary, in the courts. The Episcopal Church, for example, said it would sue to overturn the law on constitutional grounds.

''There are nothing but good intentions behind this measure, and there is sympathy for the problems that people are trying to address. But the bill doesn't address the problems,” Andrew Tarsy, regional director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, told the Globe.

“It brings the state inside religious communities in a way that is unprecedented in Massachusetts. It's good intentions and bad law, and they're glossing over really big issues," he was quoted as saying.

''If you listen to the debate, you see that a number of very distressed Roman Catholic laity, who are legislators, are inappropriately using the arm of government to deal with the internal concerns of one particular church," Rev. Diane Kessler, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches told the Globe.

''There is a real danger, that the courts have recognized over the years, in abusing power and intruding on the affairs of religious communities," she said. Her council is an umbrella organization of Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches.

The religious leaders have formed a coalition against the bill, which includes the state's four Catholic dioceses; the leaders of the mainline Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches; the Unitarian Universalist Association, the First Church of Christ, Scientist; the Islamic Council of New England; the Salvation Army; the Seventh Day Adventist Church; the Assemblies of God; several Jewish organizations, and Vision New England, which represents hundreds of independent evangelical churches.

The bill was endorsed by Senator Mary Walsh. It was approved by the Senate 33 to 4 in November. But Governor Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has threatened to veto the measure. Since then, support for the measure seems to be dwindling, reported the State House News Service.

Prior to the vote, Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston had unveiled a plan to begin annual disclosure of archdiocesan finances, starting this spring.

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