Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The New Know-Nothings: Lawlor, McDonald, Blumenthal

The reaction to Raised Bill No. 1098 has been intense in some quarters, though many commentators in the state, ordinarily quickened by blatant attacks on First Amendment rights, appear to have fallen asleep at their keyboards.

Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization based in New Haven, compares the proponents of Raised Bill No. 1098, a piece of legislation that radically undermines the way the Catholic Church is financed, to the No-Nothings of Abraham Lincoln’s day.

The Know-Nothings and Nativists of the time were fiercely anti-Catholic and anti-Negro. The favored means of attacking the Catholic Church in the days of the No-Nothings and Nativists was through “trusteeships,” a plan very much like that now being shepherded through the state’s judiciary committee by co-chairs Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor. Not for nothing does historian Arthur Schlesinger remind us that anti-Catholic prejudice is one of the most virulent forms of bigotry.

Mr. Anderson’s response to Raised Bill No. 1098, published in the Stamford Advocate, recall to some minds a painful past when Catholic Churches were burned and African Americans were left hanging like human fruit in trees.

“There has never been any doubt that government-mandated trusteeism,” Mr Anderson writes, “was simply a tool to impose severe, unconstitutional limits on the Catholic Church.”

The authors of the bill – presumably MacDonald and Lawlor, possibly with an assist from Blumenthal --lazily stretch themselves out on the comfortable notion that there is no connection between the way finances are controlled in a Catholic apostolic structure and the mandate of the Catholic Church, and there on that slender proposition they snooze and sleep the sleep of the just.

Mr. Anderson quotes Bishop Hughes of New York on trusteeism in 1842: "Every religious denomination in this country has a right to regulate, according to its own rules, the questions of ecclesiastical discipline appertaining to its Government. Deny this right, and you destroy religious liberty."

Raised Bill No. 1098 deprives Catholic bishops and archbishops of any control over church finances, which under the bill are to be regulated by a board of trustees, and yet the bill -- the stated purpose of which is “To revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church and provide for the investigation of the misappropriation of funds by religious corporations” --airily asserts, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit, restrict or derogate from any power, right, authority, duty or responsibility of the bishop or pastor in matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices.

Bridgeport Diocese Bishop William Lori, who would seem to know more than the bill’s facilitators concerning the connection between financing and the apostolic character of the Catholic Church, politely disagrees.

"I can tell you this legislation would reorganize us in ways contrary to the teachings and the law of the church," Lori told the Stanford Advocate. "It really is an excuse to get into the church and silence the church."

Lori went on to speculate, according to the Advocate, that Bill No. 1098 “might be related to the animosity from McDonald and Lawlor about the fight over same-sex marriage laws. McDonald and Lawlor are gay.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, cited by the American Competitive Institute as the worst attorney general in the United States, is named in the bill as decider-in-chief with respect any dispute regarding financial irregularities in the Catholic Church.

Only one instance has been cited by McDonald as necessitating the bill, and that issue was properly handled by Bishop Lori.

To be sure, the three days that the co-chairs of the judiciary committee allowed for public pre-hearing discussion did not allow Blumenthal to do his usual primp walk before television cameras, but a statement he gave to the Advocate suggests he is not really disposed to shred the religious protections afforded by the US Constitution, even to the Catholic Church. The First Amendment generously permits religious institution to pursue their way in the world unhampered by possibly vindictive legislators and hungry lawyers who would love to dive head first into Catholic treasuries, a prospect this bill makes easier.

Said Blumenthal, hours before the hearing, "I think what this amendment has revealed is a much broader and bigger issue relating to the existing statutory framework, which clearly is fraught with grave constitutional issues. There's a very strong argument that this entire section relating to governance and structure of religious institutions violates the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

Blumenthal’s appearance at the hearing should have been compelled, under subpoena if necessary, so that he might be asked under oath how far in advance of the hearing he knew that Lawlor and McDonald had recruited him to play Pope in their scheme to reform the Catholic Church and deprive it of its constitutional rights.
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