faces-of-jesusStatement on SB 1098 by Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport

March 11, 2009

As everyone is very much aware, SB-1098 proposed by the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly has provoked a firestorm. Much of the commentary has been intemperate and unthinking. In such a heated atmosphere reasonable discussion of the issues is nearly impossible. The Committee cancelled the public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, March 11 to allow the Attorney General to review the constitutionality of both the existing statute concerning Religious Corporations and Societies and the amendment embodied in SB 1098.

Voice of the Faithful did not originate the billand, in fact, first learned of it two days after it was introduced. Neither did VOTF have any contact with Senator Andrew McDonald or Representative Michael Lawlor, the co-chairs of the Committee and sponsors of the bill, prior to its filing.

The existing statute contains general provisions concerning religious corporations and particular provisions for specific churches, namely, the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the Roman Catholic Church. Each of the churches in question provided the language that it wished to be included in the statute. One might ask why the State enacted a statute that conferred special status on these mainstream religious bodies, but ignored many others. There are no provisions concerning the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Mormons, or many smaller Protestant churches; nor are there any provisions concerning Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and the many other non-Christian religions represented in Connecticut. One might ask why there should even be a separate statute for religious corporations and societies at all. 

As we go forward, Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport believes that a reasoned and respectful dialogue between the bishop and the Catholic community concerning lay participation in parish administration is essential. We believe that the laity should have a real say in the administration and financial management of their parishes, not the limited advisory role envisioned by Canon Law. The laity, who constitute the great majority of the Catholic faithful and who contribute the funds essential to the sustenance of our parishes and our priests, presently are effectively excluded from exercising any decisive authority over parish administration and finance.

Connecticut’s current law relating to Roman Catholic parish corporations was enacted in the 1950s and is based upon laws going back to the middle years of the nineteenth century. That law established as ex officio members of the parish corporation the bishop, the vicar general and the pastor. These three ex officio members appoint two lay trustees annually, and may also remove them for cause or for no reason at all. As appointees serving at the pleasure of the clergy, the lay trustees are neither truly representative of the lay members of the parish nor able to act independently. In fact, the same may be said of the vicar general and the pastor, who under Canon Law owe a duty of obedience to the bishop and also hold their positions at his pleasure. The provisions of the current law reflect an outmoded nineteenth-century conception of the Church. Since the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s the Church has developed a more expansive understanding of itself as the People of God, embracing all the faithful: bishops, clergy, religious and laity.

The establishment of a board of directors composed of the bishop and the pastor, as voting members, as well as elected representatives of the parish congregation conforms to the Second Vatican Council’s description of the Church as the People of God. Participation by a specified number of laypersons elected annually by the parish congregation would acknowledge the responsibility of the laity for their parish and enhance their sense of ownership and community. The transfer of temporal responsibilities to the laity would liberate the bishop and the pastor so that they may focus on their primary role as spiritual leaders, charged to preach the Gospel and to provide spiritual guidance for their people. Allowing the laity to participate more fully in the governance of the Church, especially in those areas where laypeople have expertise, would not demean the authority of the bishop or the pastor. Presently pastors are often overwhelmed by the burden of administration and financial management. At a time when the shortage of priests threatens the celebration of the Eucharist, the center of Catholic worship, the Church should welcome the willingness of the laity to assume such responsibilities.

Now is the opportunity for the bishop to engage all the faithful of the diocese in dialogue aimed at “creating better structures of participation, consultation, and shared responsibilities,” as called for by Pope John Paul II in his admonition to the bishops of the world in September 2004.


6 Responses to “WHO OWNS OUR CHURCH?”

  1. observer Says:

    The Roman Catholic bishops have presided over the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to kids sexually abused by a clergy that these same bishops have covered up for. Does this qualify them to be the only trustworthy overseers of the church’s finances?

    An observer

  2. Nicholas Troilo Says:

    The position of VOTF is one that I believe correctly reflects the desire of the lay members of the church to have greater influence on the temporal affairs of the church. Unfortunatley, it is unattainable while we are burden with a bishop who is afraid of dialogue.
    A few years ago I began to self direct my charitable contributions. I continue to support the church where I worship but take my energies and money where I have a direct voice.
    Church leadership is just going through a bad spell right now with a pope and bishops that represent a bygone era. Their views about the management of the temporal affairs of the church cannot be sustained.
    It is a difficult battle but good always wills out and the position of the pope and the bishops does not represent what is good for God’s people.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I support VotF’s position regarding the financial governance of parishes. I do not believe we will be able to have a serious dialogue with our bishop about that subject….his position is rooted in fear of loss of authority, or perhaps in the discovery of excessive spending for his personal comfort. Can only pray for more Catholics to realize the truth of what happens in their own parishes and at the dioscesan level, and work to effect the change that Votf supports. Thank you for your good work.

  4. Screen Name Says:

    Last I checked, God owns His Church…not the laity. Jesus established the Church through Peter and the bishops continue the tradition of managing the Church today, and this therefore derives from God. Canon Law establishes the role of the hierarchy and that includes the management of finances and other administrative matters. If the laity are doing their job as advisors, they can and should publicize abuses and let the parishoners decide how to modify their contributions and/or file complaints with the bishop. In both the Darien and Greenwich cases, the financial advisory boards failed to do their jobs. A change in parish governance makes no guarantee that lay administrators will discharge their duties to any greater effect than they do today.

    Church governance is vested in the hierarchy of our clergy. This is a fundamental aspect of our beliefs as Catholics, and is distinct from protestant denominations. This ensures consistency in practice across the Church, a concept that is foreign to protestants, who hire their own ministers and pride themselves on the lack of established liturgy as well as the notion of indepenent congregations, each with a style and personality of its own. Our faith however is rooted in the concept of standardized liturgy and beliefs…such that the Mass and the experience thereof on the part of the Faithul, will be substantially the same from parish to parish. This is a hallmark of our “universal” Church. As a result, a change in this structure by its nature is incompatible with our beliefs as Catholics.

    N.B.: no, I am not a member of the clergy, simply a member of the regular laity.

  5. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish Says:

    There should be no statutes giving peferential treatment, accomodations or exemptions in state or federal laws to “the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America or the Roman Catholic Church.”

    If such separate statutes for religious corporations and societies were initially enacted because the prevailing belief was that such religious denominations and corporations could be expected to do the morally right thing and not be party to criminal, immoral or unethical behaviour, they should all be removed because the record shows that no religious denomination deserves such entitlement.

    There should be no accomodation in law that gives more protection to violators of the law, predators of children, young people or vulnerable adults and their enablers then to victims of sexual abuse, financial mismanagement or theft. All religious denominations should have to follow the laws every other non-profit organization is required by law to follow.

    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
    New Castle, Delaware

  6. Archbishop Michael J. Hillis Says:

    There are many valid branches of the Universal Catholic Church,
    Rome just happens to be ONE of them, and although the largest
    by far, is still only one. You have other choices if you are not
    happy with what is going on in the Roman Church.
    Look around you, search the internet and find you a Independent/
    Old Catholic Church which you can attend. The Old Catholic Church
    of Utrecht has been around since 1870, during the time of Vatican I.

    May the Spirit of God help you find your new home !

    Archbishop Michael J. Hillis, D.D.
    Reconciliation Old Catholic Church
    Tel: (480) 231-1814

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