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Hartford, Connecticut – Thousands of Roman Catholics descended on the Connecticut statehouse Wednesday, as simmering resentment over bills they consider anti-Catholic reached a boiling point with a recent legislative attempt to give parishioners more say over parish financing.
Some of the estimated 1.3 million Catholics in Connecticut – a state of 3.5 million – have complained about the state legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples, approving state funding for embryonic stem cell research and considering legislation that bans discrimination against transgender people.
Catholics were also angered by a failed attempt in 2002 to require priests to report sexual abuse – even if they learned about it during confession – if a child was in imminent danger.
The sponsors of the now-withdrawn parish financing proposal, both Catholics themselves, have received thousands of mostly angry e-mails from across the country, as well as threats on their lives, state Capitol police said.
Leaders of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee pulled the bill from consideration Tuesday, but an estimated 3,500 people – led by the archbishop of Hartford and the bishops of Bridgeport and Hartford – rallied on the Capitol steps, demanding religious freedom.
“No other church or religion in this state is being subjected to this maltreatment,” said the Rev. Michael R. Cote, bishop of Norwich. “Today it is the Roman Catholic Church. Who will be next?”
Republican lawmakers held their own forum in a legislative office building so people could voice concerns about the legislation, which could be revived in future sessions.
Republican State Rep. T.R. Rowe, a Catholic, said many of his fellow faithful feel the latest bill meddles in church business and is the last straw.
“Traditional values promoted by the church and by the average citizen have been disregarded and ignored and reversed, frankly, over the past few years,” he said in an interview.
The newest bill would have changed a generations-old law that sets out rules for religious corporations. Under the proposal, each individual church’s board would include seven to 13 lay members, giving them the power to control parish finances. The archbishop or bishop of the diocese would serve on the board but could not vote on issues.
A group of parishioners, upset about recent cases of priests accused of embezzling large sums from parishes in Darien and Greenwich, had asked the Judiciary Committee to raise a bill this session to require more lay people on these boards.
The committee leaders, Democratic Sen. Andrew McDonald and Democratic Rep. Michael Lawlor, both Roman Catholics, are now facing the brunt of Catholics’ anger over the legislation.
Capitol Police Chief Michael J. Fallon said his department is investigating at least one credible death threat against the lawmakers. Both Lawlor and McDonald have received thousands of angry e-mails.
McDonald issued a statement Wednesday saying he never intended to offend anyone of faith or any of the responsible parish corporations.
“My only goal was to try my best to represent the concerns of my constituents, some of whom were the victims of fraud,” he said.

Associated Press
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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