Catholic freedoms at risk in Connecticut!


The principles of religious freedom and universal tolerance towards all denominations are the cornerstone of the American Constitution. The First Amendment specifically is regarded as The Free Exercise Clause, which prohibits the United States Government from any legislation that inhibits a free exercise of religious beliefs. The principle was further advocated by Thomas Jefferson in his treatises on the separation of Church and State as the definitive norm for American religious and political autonomy.
However, the State of Connecticut has introduced a bill, namely Bill 1098 that seeks to displace Catholic Bishops from their present status as the head of parish and institutional corporations. They seek to initiate a legislative agenda that initiates a lay-trustee system to replace the current structure of Connecticut’s corporate structure rules, which would make the Bishop or his representative the minority shareholder on the corporate board and subject to lay trustee approval. Needless to say, this is a hostile attempt by a legislative body to curtail the First Amendment rights of Catholics in the State of Connecticut. Catholics in that state and nationwide should take notice of this trend to silence the American Catholic Bishops and de facto, eliminating their total control over the temporal and spiritual aspects of their own dioceses and parishes.
Such legislation it seems in indicative of the new anti-Catholicism that is spreading across the United States, while Catholic Bishops actively attempt to provide Catholic moral and ethical directions for the faithful, as secular usurpation of religious rights continues to take shape. The roots of anti-Catholicism in the United States are already deeply rooted in events subsequent to the Protestant Reformation, especially when British expatriates sought freedom from religious persecution in the Americas. However, Monsignor John Tracey Ellis makes this point:”universal anti-Catholic bias was brought to Jamestown in 1607 and was vigorously cultivated in all of the British colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia.”
It seems the sponsored bill in the Connecticut legislature once again intends to diminish and even eliminate the ability of the Catholic Church in this state to self-govern its own institution. While this is 2009 this sounds quite similar to the seeds of discontent that were rampant during the Jacobinical Disposition, the American Revolution and the dark period of American anti-Irish colonialism that clearly stated: “Catholics need not apply!” Such direct attempt at forcing the submission of the Catholic corporate structure not only undermines the judicial authority of the American Catholic Bishops, but also flies in defiance to the Revised Code of Canon Law, which governs the Universal Church. Deliberate legislation against the ability to freely conduct our religious institutions without government interference quite frankly suggests an undermining of American Constitutional law and implies an intrusive Big Brother stance against Catholic internal concerns.
Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. once called anti-Catholicism: “the deepest held bias in the history of the American people.” This bias indeed seems to be alive and flourishing unashamedly in the State of Connecticut. Bill 1098 specifically requires Catholic corporations to restructure their boards of directors, displacing clerical representation to a minority status, while shifting the temporal responsibility of governing the corporation to lay trustees. Well students of American Catholic history already know that this attempt was made in Philadelphia during the Hogan Schism 1820-1829. The prolonged schism was rectified by the actions of Bishop Francis Kendrick by placing the entire parish under interdict and the foundation of a new parish until the trustees submitted to the will of the Archbishop of Philadelphia. Seemingly, the notion of lay ownership was over for the American Catholic Church, at least until the introduction of the Connecticut’s legislative proposal.
American Catholics should clearly be cautious of this proposed bill because it once again gives legislative and judicial concern to the freedom of our Catholic faith. While we as Catholics are often unaware of the safeguards already in place for our religious freedoms, this legislative bill initiates a path that undermined religious freedom for all faiths and denominations. At the same time this attempt to manipulate and even, “control” the influence of our American Catholic Bishops should be stringently protested by faithful Catholics. If indeed government is given the chance to legislate the structure of our Catholic organizations there is no telling what historic precedent that could be set.
Perhaps the structure of Catholic parishes and dioceses needs an updating. However the updating needs to come from our Catholic leadership in the United States and not the Federal or State governments. American Catholicism has contributed many social, political moral incentives that have influenced our democratic republic since 1776. We cannot permit intrusive and invasive government of any nature into internal Catholic governance. Catholics should be acutely aware of the threat to their constitutional rights and freedoms. All Americans, Catholic or otherwise need to note this legislative assault on all religious freedoms regardless of denominations.

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes frequently on Catholic topics and issues. He writes frequently at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com and contributes to Catholic Online, BBC, Irish Catholic, Dublin and the Philadelphia Bulletin.

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