Church Bill Leads To Threat

Tempers were flaring in Hartford Wednesday as thousands converged on the state Capitol over a bill that was never introduced.

The animosity over proposed legislation to give parishioners more say over parish financing grew to the point where at least one threat has been made, officials said.

Sponsors of the now-withdrawn proposal, both Catholics themselves, have received thousands of mostly angry e-mails from across the country, as well as threats on their lives, state Capitol police said.

"There have been credible threats," State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, a sponsor of the bill, told the Stamford Advocate. "All of those matters have been turned over to the capitol police."

McDonald and Judiciary Committee co-chairman Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, sponsored the bill.

McDonald was not at the Capitol Wednesday to hear dozens of people testify against his bill. He issued a statement Wednesday, saying he never intended to offend anyone of faith or any of the responsible parish corporations.

“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,” he wrote. “It was never my intent to offend anyone of faith, nor to cast negative attention on the many trustworthy and responsible parish corporations. My only goal was to try my best to represent the concerns of my constituents, some of whom were the victims of fraud.”

If the outcry from Catholics over the past few days had not driven home the extent of opposition to the legislation, the hate messages and threats over the weekend did.

McDonald has insisted, despite previous clashes with the Catholic church, he had no idea the bill submitted by himself and Lawlor would incite such outrage.

"I understand I stepped on a land mine. I got that now," McDonald told the Stamford Advocate. "But I was hauling a tank behind me when I stepped on it."

Some of the estimated 1.3 million Catholics in Connecticut -- a state of 3.5 million -- are angry about the General Assembly legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples and the state Supreme Court later approving gay marriage, as well as lawmakers approving millions of dollars in state funding for embryonic stem cell research and considering legislation that bans discrimination against transgendered people.

Catholics were also angered by a failed attempt in 2002 to require priests to report sexual abuse -- even if they learned about it during confession -- if a child was in imminent danger.

State Rep. T.R. Rowe, R-Trumbull, a Roman Catholic, said many of his fellow faithful feel the latest bill meddles in church business and is "the straw that broke the camel's back."

"Traditional values promoted by the church and by the average citizen have been disregarded and ignored and reversed, frankly, over the past few years," he said in an interview.

The newest bill would have changed a little-known 1866 law that sets out rules for religious corporations. Under the proposal, each individual church's board would include seven to 13 lay members, giving them the power to control parish finances. The archbishop or bishop of the diocese would serve on the board but could not vote on issues.

Currently, under state law, individual Roman Catholic churches in Connecticut organize as corporations and file with the state. The archbishop or bishop, the vicar-general of the diocese, the pastor of the congregation and two lay members -- appointed annually by the bishop -- form the boards for each parish and handle most of its financial matters.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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