Thursday, March 12, 2009

Surprise, You No Longer Have A Church

Sen. Andrew McDonald, the co-chair along with Rep. Michael Lawlor of the state judiciary committee, has issued an apology of sorts.

In an e-mail, Mr. McDonald writes: "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. I regret that in my pursuit of their interests, I failed to appreciate and invite into the discussion early on the views of other, equally concerned Catholics."

Let’s go through the apology step by step.

Mr. McDonald says that he received from parishioners at St. John’s church in Darien a proposal that later morphed, pretty much all by itself, into Raised Bill No. 1098.

“In reality,” McDonald wrote in an earlier statement published in the Journal Inquirer, “this bill was proposed and written by a group of faithful Catholic parishioners from Fairfield County who asked the Judiciary Committee to consider giving the subject a public hearing.”

The precise language of the proposal is at this point unclear, because Mr. McDonald has not released for public viewing the version of the bill proposed and written by his constituents. Both Mr. McDonald’s earlier statement and his most recent apology certainly leave the impression on the minds of those who have read both that the role played by Mr. McDonald in drafting the published bill was minimal.

The Bill that McDonald now has withdrawn but not killed, Raised Bill No. 1098, strips the bishops and archbishops in all Catholic Churches in Connecticut of their authority to direct the funds of their parishes, and the bill changes the financing structure of the Catholic Church from an apostolic to a corporate structure now found in some Protestant churches. The bill’s operative assumption, as stated in the bill itself, is that there is no essential connection between financing and operations. Or, to put it in quasi religious terms, McDonald, who even now insists that his role in authoring the bill was minimal, is asserting that there is no connection in the Catholic Church between the way the church finances its mission and its theology.

The stated purpose of the bill 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” and the bill 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.”

Since its promulgation, the bishops of the Catholic Church, constitutional scholars and that portion of the Catholic faithful that showed up in the rain to protest the bill, 4,000 strong, have hotly disputed these claims.

Raised Bill No. 1098 has left in its wake lots of surprised people.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the state finance committee over which Mr. McDonald presides as a co-chair have said they were surprised at the bill’s packaging. The members of the committee in a brief 17 minute meeting had by voice vote authorized Mr. McDonald and Mr. Lawlor to draft Raised Bill No. 1098. The bill was included under a group of 78 generic legal umbrella concepts and entitled “modifying corporate forms.” This manner of authorizing bills is not unusual, but had the bill been titled “modifying the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church,” the title might have awakened more interest among members of the judiciary committee.

Ranking Republican on the committee Sen. John Kissel later said the section title was deceiving because it made no mention of religion or church finances.

One paper reported on Kissel’s astonishment:

“He assumed the ‘corporate’ proposals being contemplated by Lawlor and McDonald were ‘something very dry, boring and innocuous’ instead of what amounted to ‘a huge lightning rod issue.’

"I'm not going to impute motives on anyone at this time,” Kissel said. "But I've been on this committee a long time. Give us a heads up.”

Mr. Kissel is too kind.

One of the St. John’s parishioners on whose behalf Mr. McDonald wrote the bill, Tom Gallagher of Greenwich -- though Mr. McDonald still does not accept ownership of his bill in his carefully worded apology, preferring instead to leave the impression that he was a simple custodian of the bill who provided a “forum” in which his constituent’s “concerns” might be aired -- was also surprised, as well he should be. It was Mr. Gallagher’s complaint to Mr. McDonald that resulted in the proposed reformation of the apostolic character of Mr. Gallagher’s church. The fraudulent gay priest in Darien who had committed the larceny that spurred Mr. McDonald to defend Mr. Gallagher interests had long been arrested, defrocked and jailed; bishops in Connecticut had introduced a new financial reporting system that has made Catholic Churches in the state as transparent as many national and international companies; and Mr. Galagher, according to a news report “said he was surprised as anyone when McDonald contacted him last week to say the bill was being drafted.”

There is enough surprise in the events surrounding the bill for which Mr. McDonald now has “apologized” to choke several popes, a roomful of canon lawyers, all the Catholics in the state who were unnerved by Mr. McDonald’s attempt to put one past his colleagues in the legislature, not to mention his botched attempt to reform the apostolic character of the Catholic Church, and me.

If McDonald were as repentant as his faux apology seems to suggest, he would have killed the bill. Republicans and the Catholic clergy worry that the tabled bill may be ressurected and attached to some other innocuous bill under a similarly misleading title. Numerous legislators at the hastily called Republican informal hearing vowed to remain awake in the event the bill is resubmitted under similar false pretenses.

McDonald didn't kill Raised Bill No. 1098. Belonging to the Rham Emmanuel school of politics, legislators hostile to the Catholic Church are waiting patiently for the next crisis, which they will not waste.

And that’s the truth.
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