Church Vs. State's Attorneys

Hartford Courant [Hartford CT]
June 4, 2003

Mounting a last-minute campaign, the Connecticut Catholic Conference appears on the verge of killing much-needed legislation that would give state prosecutors subpoena power. The church's interference is outrageous.

State's attorneys have long sought the investigative subpoena as a crime-fighting tool. Embroiled in a sex-abuse scandal, the Roman Catholic Church is now fighting to deny prosecutors that tool.

The legislation would give prosecutors legal authority to subpoena people and documents in complicated or stalled investigations. This is a power that federal investigators and prosecutors in many other states have. The bill passed the Senate 20-16 last week and is pending in the House. But, because of the Catholic Church's intense lobbying and the fact that as many as 30 amendments have been attached to the bill, it may not be voted on before the legislature adjourns at midnight. If the measure dies, the Catholic Church will have been aided by legislative leaders whose poor management of time allowed a bill of such importance to remain on the calendar at session's end. The subpoena bill should have been debated and passed earlier.

The advocacy office of the state's Catholic bishops denies that it opposes the legislation because of the fear of a sex abuse investigation. It contends that the measure threatens the confidential relationship between clergy and parishioners and massive disruption of church works if church officials were forced to comply with subpoenas.

Those reasons make little sense. As Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano notes, confidentiality between priest and parishioner is already protected under law. Further, the proposed bill protects the confidential relationship between church social workers and their clients.

Some lawmakers see other reasons for the Catholic Church's opposition to subpoena power. Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, says the church's lobbying follows a pattern of fighting legislation that could be used to investigate priests suspected of child abuse. Mr. Lawlor said the Catholic Conference worked to defeat a bill several years ago that would have eliminated the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sexual abuse. The subpoena bill should pass.


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