A Bridgeport Too Far
This week, the buzz in the Catholic blogosphere is over certain actions being undertaken by the state legislature of Connecticut, as they relate to the administration of dioceses and parishes of the Catholic Church in that state. Not all the churches. Not some of the churches. Only the Catholic Church.
Naturally, with a story like this, everybody wants a piece of the action:
American Papist: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
The Anchoress: 1
The Catholic Key: 1, 2, 3
Creative Minority Report: 1, 2, 3, 4
The Knights of Columbus: 1
What Does The Prayer Really Say?: 1
The above is not even all that is out there. And we can't compete with any of it here at mwbh. What we CAN do, is tell you what they may have missed. Well, one or two of them came real damn close, and we'll tell you why. But first, we will set our stage with a little story.
William Lori is the Bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Before that, he was an Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, DC. It was during the 1990s, as the Archbishop of Washington, James Cardinal Hickey, was in failing health, when it was understood that Bishop Lori was responsible for the daily administration of the Archdiocese. At that time, two colleagues of mine from a Jesuit parish in Georgetown where I used to work, and which shall remain nameless, were petitioning the Archdiocese for a Decree of Denunciation against their pastor, for allowing certain liturgical and pastoral abuses to continue unabated. The petitioners worked long and hard to make their case, got the best advice in the country for using the Church's system of jurisprudence, and succeeded in putting those in charge squarely in the dock. I take no pride in having no recollection of whether their petition was granted. But I distinctly remember an account, of His Excellency taking great exception to some of the pleading of the petitioners, regarding the pace of the Church's justice. "How dare you presume to tell us how to run things." This is what he was said to have told them. (Maybe he had a right to, but bear with us, dear reader.)
To the extent that this account is true (and it was obtained from the person who was themselves admonished), we might conclude that Bishop Lori is quite sure of himself and his command of a situation. How has that posture served him in Bridgeport?
The state legislature in Connecticut has decided they can manage the Catholic Church better than She can manage Herself, at least in Connecticut. We should mention at this point that Connecticut is known as "The Constitution State," because it was the vote of their delegates at the Continental Congress, that rendered the majority vote necessary to ratify the Constitution of the United States -- you know, the one that's being ignored right now, especially where it says...
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
Now, you'd think the legal dilemma would have been obvious, wouldn't you? But it's not to people who are determined to get what they want, by any means necessary. And when your manifesto is Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals," you may or may not be thinking about what happens when you lose control of the scenario of your own making. Robespierre would eventually lose his head over no less.
This has yet to occur to really highly-educated, smarty-britches people like Professor Paul Lakeland. The former Jesuit priest is the Chair of Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, a Jesuit institution (need we say more?) located near Bridgeport. Mr Smartybritches is the author of several books including “The Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church." He is also an active member of Voice of the Faithful. An organization founded ostensibly to deal with the scandal of clerical sexual abuse, VOTF has long been involved in misguided efforts to challenge Church teaching and practice. In the past year, this extension of their mission has become more aggressive.
The premise of the bill is remarkably similar to the 2009-2010 Voice of the Faithful Strategic Plan. “The VOTF,” as Dr Lakeland explains, “grew up in response to the sex abuse scandals here. One of the things that became rapidly apparent, among both liberals and conservatives, was the sense that the bishops hadn’t done a very good job of handling this.”
Explaining his connection to the bill Dr Lakeland said, “I’m connected to [the bill] to this degree: I’ve been working pretty closely with Tom Gallagher, who’s a Greenwich businessman, who has been behind the push to get the state government to do something about this. Even though, I don’t think, even he was involved in putting the legislation together.”
Upon further investigation, Tom Gallagher seems to be more than just a Greenwich businessman, and to have more than just a passive role in lobbying legislators for the change. In a Voice of the Faithful article titled, “The Money Trail: Financial Management and Mismanagement in the Diocese of Bridgeport,” Joseph O’Callaghan quotes ‘Attorney’ Tom Gallagher multiple times...
Voice of the Faithful has been compliant in organizing this legislation. Their affiliate in Bridgeport has come out publicly in favor of it. They have been meeting on the property of a parish in the Bridgeport diocese since last September.
It is dangerous to assume that putting a committee of lay people in charge of the temporal goods of the Church, as opposed to clerics, will ensure more accountability, as opposed to merely spreading it around. To whom shall these delegates be responsible? At one time, parishes in America were under lay trusteeship. That it changed in most states over the course of the 19th century, was for several reasons, not the least of which was lay people misappropriating church funds. Remember, clerics are on the payroll, while laics generally are not. Which do you think can be called on the carpet more easily? Even today, in states like New Jersey, for example, you have a trustee system, where two laics are made responsible under state law. They are appointed by the pastor for limited terms. The thing is, this system is also in place in Connecticut. What difference did lay trusteeship make to Father Michael Jude Fay, former pastor of St John's in Darien, who walked off with over a million dollars? Did it stop members of VOTF from meeting on the grounds of that parish to discuss this legislation? What difference does it make whether it comes down to two trustees, or two dozen on a committee?
Maybe we cannot fault Bishop Lori for being unable to monitor the day-to-day movements of every one of his priests. We might even give him a pass for being unable to keep the Jesuits in line any better than any other bishop on the East Coast. What cannot be excused, however, is any pretention toward omnipotence. If Deal Hudson is right, "Bill 1098 is right out of the playbook of the Call to Action and Voice of the Faithful dissidents. It is the embodiment of the 'American Catholic Church' described in great detail by Professor Leonard Swidler of Temple University." The enemy has been inside the gate the entire time, and those who guard it are either unaware, or unconcerned. For now, the legislation is on hold, at least for this session, while the state Attorney General determines (gasp!) the constitutionality of such a law. Nevertheless, there is a rally tonight at the steps of the state capital, and Bishop Lori is reported to plan on being there to speak. He faces more than a crowd of angry, honest citizens this evening. He faces the need to be honest with himself.
When that moment of truth arrives, "How dare you presume to tell us how to run things." is not the ideal clarion call for leading the eleven o'clock news, let alone for leading the charge.
[LATE NIGHT UPDATE: According to a wire story from Reuters, "Connecticut's Republican governor, Jodi Rell, said the proposal 'was blatantly unconstitutional, insensitive and inappropriate.'" So, the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way are safe in the "Constitution State" -- for the moment.]