Doug Hardy photo
Sen. Andrew McDonald, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, listens to a question from a committee member during Monday’s public hearing. Rep. Gerald Fox is at right. (Doug Hardy photo)

The Judiciary Committee spent about two hours Thursday morning formally killing a controversial bill concerning the Roman Catholic Church in addition to 19 other bills.

In what felt more like a therapy session at times, the 43 members of the committee spoke about their feelings regarding the bill , which would have stripped Catholic bishops and pastors from any control over parish finances.

Committee co-chairmen Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, and Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, explained for what seemed like the umpteenth time how the bill came to be, and also expressed their thoughts on its constitutionality.

McDonald said he helped introduce the legislation on behalf of two constituents—Thomas Gallagher, a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena of Greenwich, and Paul Lakeland, a former priest and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.

McDonald said he submitted Gallagher’s document titled “A Model Statute Reforming Catholic Parish Corporations” to the Legislative Commissioners Office, which then drafted the language for the bill. The language McDonald submitted to the commissioner’s office said the bishops and pastors would become ex-officio members of the parish finance board, which would be run by at least seven but not more than 13 lay members elected by the parish.

But after a firestorm over the bill erupted, Gallagher said it was not his intention to ban clergy from voting on finance boards.

From 1866 to 1903, under the state of Connecticut’s corporations act, the finance board of the Catholic Church included two voting lay members elected by their parishes. In 1897, the Supreme Court ruled that the configuration was constitutional, but it wasn’t until 1903 that the law was changed by the General Assembly at the urging of the Catholic bishops.

Having any corporation laws regarding the Methodist, Episcopalian, or Catholic Church is “constitutionally suspect,” McDonald said.

McDonald and Lawlor both said it was not their intent to offend anyone by introducing the legislation. However, they said discussing issues brought forward by constituents and debating those ideas, even those that are controversial, is part of their job as legislators.

McDonald said in past legislative sessions there were 1,800 bills that received a public hearing and never came up for a vote. He said he suspects members of the Judiciary Committee would be angry if he and Lawlor only raised bills that they supported, or bills which had no constitutional concerns.

But some committee members felt blindsided by this particular piece of legislation.

Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, said he first heard about the bill when he went to church. He said the issue seemed to “sneak by all of us.”

Rep. William Hamzy, R-Terryville, said he has never had a reason not to trust the committee’s co-chairmen, but he felt that this bill represented a lack of respect for the legislative process and the members of the committee.

McDonald said he thinks there may have been a lack of communication, but not a lack of respect.

Doug Hardy photo
Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, listens to testimony on Monday. (Doug Hardy photo)

“I believe that what took place this morning was a step forward and I’m grateful that everyone seems to be on the same page now,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield.

Kissel, along with Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Soutbury, requested Thursday’s meeting to “box” out the bill, as well as others. 

“While we appreciate being provided with notice of your decision to ‘withdraw’ up to 20 raised bills from upcoming public hearing agendas; we feel that formal committee action is necessary,” Kissel and O’Neill wrote in their letter to Lawlor and McDonald.