Saturday, March 28, 2009

What’s in a Word? Pope Blumenthal, Bishop McDonald and Archbishop Lawlor Seek Shelter From The Pitiless Storm

The thousands of Catholics who descended upon the state’s Capitol to protest Raised Bill No. 1098 will be gratified to learn that the whole sorry business was the result, according to a news report in the Journal Inquirer, of a misunderstanding concerning the meaning of the expression “ex-officio.”

Those Latin formulations; they get you every time.

Sen. Andrew McDonald, who along with Rep. Michael Lawlor in the House is one of the two co-chairmen of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, received in 2007 a communication from an understandably upset parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church in Greenwich, Mr. Thomas Gallagher.

Three years ago, a Stamford detective hired by parishioners of St. John’s Roman Catholic Church to investigate strange goings-on in the rectory of the church had documented that its pastor, the Reverend Michael Jude Fay, had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars of church money to finance a lavish lifestyle with another man. The Reverend Fay, then a member of the diocese’s sexual misconduct review board formed to look into allegations of clerical sexual misconduct, spent the money on limousine rides, a Florida condo, restaurants and cruises, according to a story in the Hartford Advocate.

The Rev. Fay was in due course defrocked and sentenced, and measures were put in place across the state to make Catholic church financing as transparent as that of Sen. Chris Dodd and the co-chairs of the judiciary committee. At his sentencing hearing, a repentant Fay addressed the judge: “I beg your mercy not to send me to prison. I am already in prison,” to which the judge responded, “Forgiveness is going to have to come from elsewhere and from others because that is not a part of what the court is charged with doing.”

The letter written by Gallagher to McDonald has now been produced by McDonald at the tail end of a controversy in which both McDonald and Lawlor have accepted responsibility, sort of, for having supported a bill, Raised Bill No 1098, that, had it passed, would have changed the apostolic nature of the Catholic Church.

Gallagher earlier professed “surprise” at the bill that was shaped under the direction of both co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee. Gallagher never intended, he said, to deprive bishops and archbishops of his church of their authority to direct the finances of their parishes. The bill that emerged from the judiciary nursery did exactly that, and when Raised Bill No. 1098 blew up in the faces of judiciary co-chairs McDonald and Lawlor, both professed surprise.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee professed surprise that a bill constructed from a two year old letter written by an understandably upset parishioner had been concealed from them, only to pop out of news reports a few days before the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee had arranged a hearing on the matter. They were further surprised when the co-chairs unaccountably called off the hearing.

In the interim, thousands of Catholics had shown up on the Capitol lawn to profess their discomfort with the bill; Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had appeared in print announcing that the bill was, in his opinion, a violation of First Amendment rights; and the legal foundation upon which the bill rested had been yanked away by constitutional law scholars, priests, Republican and Democrat members of the Judiciary Committee and others who testified before a hastily called Republican forum on Raised Bill No. 1098.

When the bill collapsed, all the homeowners had fled the premises. Out of the ruins, Lawlor and McDonald stepped forward to declare that they never had intended to deceive their colleagues on the Judiciary Committee; this despite the fact that Republicans, priests and constitutional scholars were never notified concerning the content of the co-chairmen’s pig in a poke.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal got a smidgen of dust in his hair.

If Raised Bill No. 1098 had been a Shakespearian play – say Hamlet – the attorney general, who has often worked hand in glove with Mr. Lawlor and Mr. McDonald to push legislation all three favor, would be playing the part of Hamlet in the play, so central was his role in Raised Bill No. 1098.

In the bill, which reorganizes the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church, an act of supererogation comparable to rearranging the Milky Way, Blumenthal was assigned the role of decider-in-chief. The bill replaced the present apostolic structure of the Catholic Church with a corporation board, similar to that of Protestant churches. The operative assumption seemed to be that in making Catholic churches more Protestant, the architects of the bill would be making the church less prone to financial irregularities. The purpose of the board, created out of whole cloth by McDonald and Lawlor, was to receive complaints regarding finances and refer to Blumenthal, the decider-in-chief, any legally questionable ones. In such matters, the bill would give to Blumenthal the authority to settle the disputes – a role now assigned to bishops and archbishops and popes.

But central casting, it would now appear, never contacted the attorney general, in his words, “before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly… Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.”

Here is a tentative theory: The oleaginous co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, Lawlor and McDonald, concealed the nature of their bill from their Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee because they wished to slide their pig-in-a-poke past vigilant Catholics.

And they may have sandbagged the usually vigilant Blumenthal along the way.

Pope Blumenthal has not yet divulged whether he intends to grant McDonald and Lawlor a plenary indulgence, but the attorney general – whose powers and authority apparently are omniscient and omnipresent – has not yet abandoned his plans to review statutory regulations that facilitate the constitutional liberties of Connecticut’s religious institutions and pronounce, in one of the papal bulls he regularly releases to Connecticut's facile media, on their constitutionality.

The co-chairs of the judiciary committee, bishop McDonald and archbishop Lawlor, no doubt will be useful to pope Blumenthal in his future efforts.
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