Connecticut Bill 1098 generates controversy


Media Advisory

Fairfield University, founded by the Society of Jesus, is Jesuit and Catholic in its mission, tradition, and spirit. As an educational institution, we are also a community in which academic freedom is the cornerstone, the free exchange of ideas is encouraged and debates among members of the academy occur frequently. That is what happened recently at Fairfield University when two professors took opposite sides on a Church/State issue that erupted because of a proposed bill (1098) introduced by the Judiciary Committee in the Connecticut Legislature that would create lay councils to oversee the finances of local parishes. It is important to note that when members of the university community take positions and state opinions, they do so in their own name and not in the name of the institution

Here are the views of the two faculty members who were on opposite sides of the issue:

Opposing the bill was Fr. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., a member in 2006-07 of the official delegation of the Holy See to the 61st session of the UN General Assembly in New York and a former national director of the Jesuit Refugee Service USA. He is a professor of sociology and the director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University.

Fr. Ryscavage said, "In my many years of doing federal and international public policy work for the U.S. Catholic Bishops, I have never encountered a more brazen and poorly drafted intrusion of the state into the life of the Church than I see in this Bill 1098. A bishop is charged by Christ to care for the poor but this proposed legislation separates the bishops and the poor by naively attempting to disentangle religious authority of the pastor or bishop from any financial authority. You cannot separate administrative and budgetary authority from religious authority. As any religious leader will tell you, a church budget is a moral document; it is a religious document because it indicates the social, religious and moral priorities of the church, choosing and administering those funding priorities are essential elements of a pastor and bishop's religious leadership.

Fr. Ryscavage noted, "The Catholic Church provides more social, charitable and educational services than any other private institution in the state. The bill would threaten those services at a time of economic crisis when the residents of Connecticut depend on Catholic services more and more."

Supporting the legislation was Dr. Paul F. Lakeland, Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies at Fairfield University and the author of several books, including "The Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church" awarded the first place 2004 Catholic Press Award in theology, and "Catholicism at the Crossroads: How the Laity Can Save the Church."(2007)

Dr. Lakeland said, "As a lay Catholic I expect, respect and support the roles of clergy and especially bishops as leaders in all matters religious, but I am offended by the exclusion of lay people from accountability for the material assets of our Church. There is evidently no connection between ordination as a priest or consecration as a bishop and the talents appropriate to fiduciary responsibility. Lay people are as likely to possess them as clergy. Parishes today are complex and often have large financial responsibilities, and their management should be in the hands of the laity, to whom the parish and indeed, the whole Church, belongs. Bishops and parochial clergy are among the busiest of people with enormous pastoral responsibilities, and the burden of fiduciary responsibility is not one they need, nor indeed one which corresponds to any sound theological assessment of what pertain to the traditional roles of teaching, sanctifying and governing. During the early years of the Catholic Church in America the norm for parish organization was a model of lay ownership of and fiduciary responsibility for parish property."

In his own statement on the proposed bill, which he sent to Bishop Lori on Monday, March 9 indicating his support of the Bishop's stance against the proposed bill, Fr. von Arx, S.J., president of Fairfield University, said: "As a long-time student of Roman Catholic Church history, I am certainly aware of the fact that the Church has been organized, at the universal, national and local level, in different ways over the course of its history. And the Church must always be, and especially since Vatican II has shown itself to be, open to reform in the non-essentials of its governance and administration. But these are internal Church matters to be worked out within the community of the faithful. In the polity of a liberal, non-sectarian state there is no more justification for the state to interfere with the internal governance of a denomination than there would be for the state to enact legislation that favors one denomination over another."

It should be noted that the judiciary committee cancelled the official hearing on the bill and that a large crowd gathered in Hartford to decry the proposed legislation. Among the speakers at a bipartisan informational hearing Wednesday was Father Ryscavage.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 12, 2009

Vol. 41, No. 242