The 'Sleeping Giant' Awakes: Connecticut Church Rallies Against 1098

3/12/2009

• Video Coverage of the Rally
• Photos from the Rally
• Follow the Rally via Twitter
• Text of Supreme Knight's Remarks
• Attack on Connecticut’s Catholic Church Poses Threat to All Churches
• Shredding the First Amendment in the Constitution State
• Headline Bistro Article


by Elizabeth Ela
Headline Bistro

Connecticut church rallies against Bill No. 1098

The Connecticut legislation that proposed to strip administrative authority from Catholic priests and bishops has clearly woken a “sleeping giant” – the state’s Catholic population.

That was the opinion of more than one person – and at least one speaker – at a rally at the State Capitol in opposition to the bill.

On what would have been the day of Bill 1098’s public hearing in the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, bishops from the state’s three dioceses, along with other speakers, including Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Connecticut-based Knights of Columbus, addressed a crowd of more than 5,000 Catholics and others concerned for religious freedom.

The overall theme of the rally: that Bill No. 1098 should never have been raised, that it smacked of anti-Catholicism and that the Catholic Church in Connecticut strongly supported the bishops and priests threatened by the legislation.

Yesterday, the two lawmakers who introduced the bill suddenly tabled it, removing it for the time-being from further discussion. It seems likely to be discussed again, after the legislative session ends.

This followed a week of outcry that the bill violated the First Amendment.

Despite a persistent drizzle and the cancellation of the hearing, thousands of Catholics from throughout the state came to the capitol determined to make sure their voices were still heard.

Breaking into song with renditions of “America the Beautiful” and “Faith of Our Fathers” and carrying signs calling for religious freedom, the crowd’s energy level was buzzing even before the addresses began.

They arrived early and remained upbeat, often interrupting the speakers with cheers of support.

Picking up the chant “leave our Church alone,” though, the crowd clearly conveyed its frustration over the bill, its proponents and the legislators who introduced it.

One sign played off the fact that Voice of the Faithful, a dissident group of lay Catholics, has been tied with Bill 1098’s creation. “My faithful voice says don’t divide my Church,” it read.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson was one of the speakers on the steps of the state capitol, located an hour from the Knights’ headquarters in New Haven.

With its intent of wresting authority from Church officials and removing their vote in parish or diocesan affairs, Anderson called Bill 1098 “an insult to every priest in the state of Connecticut.”

On behalf of the largest lay Catholic organization in America, Anderson said, “We are concerned that our bishops and our priests be treated with respect.”

Bishop Michael Cote of the Diocese of Norwich opened the rally with an invocation in thanks of freedom of religion and the Constitution.

He then launched into a criticism of those who would champion Bill 1098, who he said had to be either ignorant of its full implications “or openly antagonistic to the Church.”

Saying he hoped it was ignorance, rather than ill will, that directed the bill’s supporters, Bishop Cote added, “As women and men of faith … we much prefer the protection of our Constitution to your unwarranted meddling.”

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport recalled other incidents in American history that singled out Catholics with discriminatory legislation.

“Remember the Know-Nothings?” Bishop Lori asked. “I hope they’re not back.”

“Even a first-year law student would know that Bill 1098 is unconstitutional,” he said.

“My 16-year-old knows that!” a protestor interrupted, to the crowd’s cheers.

The bishop continued: “Let’s bury (this proposal) for good.”

“Our state has serious problems,” Bishop Lori concluded. “Our Church has a part in solving those problems. Let freedom ring!”

By the time Archbishop Henry Mansell gave the last address, the crowd had settled into its almost back-and-forth interaction with the speakers.

When they began chanting, “We vote!” during the archbishop’s speech, he replied, “Yes, we do, and it’s important to remember that when we come to the polls next year in November.”

Many of the rally participants were constituents of the Connecticut lawmakers who introduced Bill 1098 to the Judiciary Committee last week.

“McDonald – Stamford’s watching you,” one woman’s sign proclaimed, in reference to Democratic State Sen. Andrew McDonald.

“People have embarrassed themselves” and the state of Connecticut in attempting to tamper with Connecticut’s current statute on religious corporations, Archbishop Mansell said.

The stated purpose of the law was to address financial mismanagement in parishes.

But as speaker after speaker pointed out, parish finance scandals are rare. There are more than 300 parishes in Connecticut, but it was St. John’s Parish in Darien, Conn., that became a flashpoint of sorts in the Bill 1098 controversy since it is one of the two parishes in recent years struck by financial scandal under their former pastors.

Hank Satterthwaite, a parishioner of St. John’s, stood behind the speakers’ podium with a large group from his church.

Satterthwaite serves as chairman of the finance committee at St. John’s.

“I have lived financial transparency in the Catholic Church and in the Diocese of Bridgeport,” said Satterthwaite, who began serving in his position right after the St. John’s scandal.

Because of the Church’s commitment to financial transparency and the safeguards it’s put in place to prevent such incidents from ever happening again, Bill 1098 was “not only constitutionally wrong but absolutely unnecessary,” Satterthwaite continued.

News reports have quoted Rep. Lawlor and Sen. McDonald as saying members of St. John’s, still concerned with the Catholic Church’s financial management, were the catalysts to Bill 1098.

Satterthwaite, however, said the St. John’s community has given its full support of its pastor and bishop and believes the Church has been open about its use of their money.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the parish who’s in favor of (Bill 1098),” he said.