Spirituality for Today – April 2009 – Volume 13, Issue 9

Lessons to be Learned

By The Most Reverend William E. Lori, S.T.D., Bishop Of Bridgeport

Since its founding, the United States has been unique among the nations of the world in its treatment of the relationship between Church and State. The First Amendment bars churches from playing an official role in the conduct of the government and keeps the government out of the affairs of churches.

A photo of many Connecticut Catholics outside the capital building in Hartford ConnecticutMany Connecticut Catholics gather to show their support.

But throughout our history, there have been those who would try 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.

The latest example of this trend emerged this past week, when a bill (SB 1098) was introduced in the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature that specifically targets the Catholic Church. It would strip your bishop and your pastors of the governing role entrusted to them by Church teaching and law. 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.

But the plan didn't work. Thousands of you, the Catholics of Connecticut rejected this unconstitutional piece of legislation built upon a pretext. 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.

Ultimately the hearing was cancelled by the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee. In bringing this about you showed real love for your Church and for your country.

With all my heart, I thank you.

The last time this kind of legislative attack on the Church was attempted was in the 1850s, when the virulently anti-Catholic "Know Nothing Party" gained control of the legislature and tried to cripple the Church in much the same way. Trusteeism was one of their favorite ploys. 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.

The proposed bill was aimed only at the Catholic Church. No other religious organization in the state was mentioned. Its authors said they were responding to the complaints of pious parishioners following the embezzlement at Saint 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. In fact, the lay leadership of Saint John's made it a point to tell me how pleased they are with their Pastor, Msgr. Frank McGrath, and with the financial management system the diocese put in place.

Come to think of it, Senator McDonald might have done a little homework before launching his bill. If he had, he would have found out that all such attempts are unconstitutional. He also would have discovered what an excellent parish administration and finance system we have in place. That information isn't hard to come by; it's only a click away on our website.

The timing of this mean-spirited attack on the Church comes at time when a severe recession is forcing the Connecticut State Government to cut back on programs of all sorts. The Church – the largest private provider of social and educational services – is taking up much of the slack. You'd think these legislators would see the importance of these services for the common good of society.

There are lessons to be learned here. First, as believers and citizens, we need to remain alert. Religious freedom may have dodged a bullet, but the struggle isn't over. Other salvos are coming.

After all the protest and expert testimony, Senator McDonald still doesn't get it. 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.

There is also unfounded talk about tinkering with the existing statutes. Some public officials claim that these laws may not be constitutional. This is plain wrong – the current religious corporation statutes are settled law, tried and tested over time. They are constitutional.

We should also be on guard against other legislation unfriendly to the Church and Church institutions, or efforts to silence the Church on the issues of the day.

We should also be alert to measures that would hold the Church responsible in matters where the State holds itself exempt. It's time to level the playing field.

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.

May the Lord bless you and your loved ones!

This article courtesy of Bishop Lori's blog dated March 12, 2009

Learn more about the successful fight against Bill 1098