Knights of Columbus

On May 21, 2010, we posted our first Vortex episode on the Knights ("Is Chivalry Dead?"). At that time, there was a kerfuffle over directives from Supreme headquarters that forbade discipline of Knights who were public figures in support of "Culture of Death" initiatives. Here are three links to substantive commentaries on that affair:

"Knights in Tarnished Armor"

"The Knights of Columbus: Forgetting What It Means to Be a Man?

Our Vortex episode of July 20, 2011 ("Good Night, Knights!") was a follow-up from the episode of the previous May, this time in response to the role of Knights in the passage of the gay marriage law in New York. Here are three additional commentaries on that subject:

Knights of Columbus: High Salary and Pro-Abort Catholic Members Continue to Cause Scandal 

Same-Sex Marriage and Scandalous Knights of Columbus

Wayward Knights Enable Abortion, Gay Marriage

Our next Vortex episode on the Knights, August 4, 2011 ("The Knights, Redux") was in response to suggestions that it might be better to work for change from within rather than choosing to leave. We questioned whether change from within is even possible, given attempts to address these same issues at least two decades before.

A more recent Vortex episode on the Knights, from June 2, 2015, is "Gay Knights and Damned Bishops."

The Faithful Departed, a fine book on the decline of the Catholic Church in Boston by Philip Lawler, provides helpful historical context that reveals the difficulties faced by both the Knights and the Church with regard to individual Knights who reject Catholic teaching:

The Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal organization, had impeccable credentials as a politically neutral Catholic group.  There were hundreds of thousands of Knights enlisted in each of America’s major political parties; the organization was certainly not partisan. Yet the Knights were proudly Catholic and staunchly pro-life; their adherence to Catholic teaching was also unquestioned.

Could the Knights settle the political issue, by expelling politicians who voted in favor of abortion? Membership in the Knights of Columbus was reserved to active Catholics in good standing. Pro-lifer activists in the organization argued that a Catholic politician who voted to support legal abortion had thereby shown his contempt for Catholic teaching and separated himself from the Church; he was no longer a Catholic in good standing.

In December 1990, the worldwide leader of the Knights of Columbus revealed that this intramural argument had been settled – not by a vote of the American members, but by an order from the Vatican. Virgil Dechant, the Supreme Grand Knight, said that  his orders came from the Vatican Secretary of State. He quoted Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, as saying, in reply to the question of whether pro-abortion politicians might be excluded from membership, "Don’t you dare make a move without the approval of Church authorities."

But "Church authorities" remained silent. The pro-abortion position was condemned, but the individual politicians who took that stance were treated as loyal Catholics in good standing.” (p. 85)

This is indeed troubling and reason for sympathy for those Knights and local Councils who strive to be faithfully Catholic but face resistance, it appears, from leaders in the Church Herself. 

It cannot be denied that the Knights of Columbus do much good, both for the Church and society at large. There are very few (if any) completely pure and incorrupt human organizations or institutions. Perhaps it is true that the Carthusians are the only religious order that has never needed to be reformed but, as a safe generalization, any collection of human beings will be descendants of Adam and, therefore, subject to the consequences of Original Sin. The original 12 Apostles included Judas, so we shouldn't be surprised at the presence of imperfection in the Church or the Knights of Columbus.

The Catholic Church is an institution of divine origin. The Knights of Columbus is not. It can never be a correct response to evil within the Church to start a new Church or to separate oneself, in any way, from the Body of Christ. There is only one true Church, so there is nowhere else to go that could be better. One can, however, make a prudential judgment to leave an institution of human origin and a) start another organization or b) just free oneself from an occasion of sin. To appeal to the example of St. Francis, for example, responding to an inspiration to repair and reform the Church, and apply it to a decision to leave the Knights of Columbus is a true "apples to oranges" comparison.

It is, however, completely fair to suggest that staying with a corrupt organization and working for reform from within is better than abandoning ship. Every individual must make that call for himself and there is seldom a "one size fits all" correct response to a given set of circumstances.

There is at least systemic hypocrisy in the leadership ranks of the Knights of Columbus. Michael Voris said that he has made the personal decision that he can no longer be associated with the Knights of Columbus because of institutional hypocrisy comparable to what is now obvious at the University of Notre Dame. In other words, the institutional commitment of the Knights of Columbus to Catholicism and Catholic values is no longer evident. There may be "echoes" of its original charism in local councils (as there are "echoes" of Notre Dame's original charism in numerous alumni groups), but we can no longer encourage faithful Catholics to participate any more than we can recommend faithful Catholics to send their children to Notre Dame.

The Knights are well known for their pro-life work. They are financially generous and visible presences outside abortuaries. They also support the pro-life movement with prayer and in countless other ways. This is all "good fruit." The commitment of the Knights of Columbus to the Culture of Life is undeniable.

That's one "hand."

Public figures and governmental officials, elected and otherwise, are in the best position to advance the Culture of Life. They have the power to do things that those protesting outside abortuaries cannot. They can do what only legislators, executives and the judiciary can. Many of these influential and powerful figures are members of the Knights of Columbus, and many of them work diligently for the culture of life.  ut many do not.

And that's the other "hand."

When you have influential and powerful members of the Knights of Columbus working against the Culture of Life, while other members are sacrificing their time and talent and treasure to see the Culture of Life triumph within our society, then you have a "house divided," and a "house divided" cannot stand. The institutional hypocrisy is staggering. "On the one hand" you have warriors for the Culture of Life, and "on the other hand" you have one's own generals and brothers fighting for the other side. In case you haven't noticed, that "other side" is winning, in large part due to Knights and other Catholics caving to the Culture of Death.

The exact same scenario is apparent in the fight to defend marriage. Faithful Catholic Knights are fighting like courageous members of the Church Militant to defend Catholic truth about marriage and family life, while faithless Catholic Knights (and generals) are on the other side fighting back, and winning. When the generals in charge are fighting against their own rank and file soldiers, it makes perfect sense, to me, for those soldiers to a) try to figure out how to replace their generals or b) give up and go home rather than continue to fight a war which they can't win on their ownIt is completely inappropriate to try to compare these scenarios with problems within the Catholic Church. 

There is no other Church, but there is the potential for forming another army with different generals to fight the war that isn't being won with the current general staff. If there is a way to get your current general staff to lead the fight for your side (if there is repentance and conversion), then whatever it takes should be done. One can argue that the current structure is too far gone to be salvaged and something new needs to take its place. If the current "band of brothers" is enabling the general staff to continue to fight against their own professed interests, then it's time for many "brothers" to abandon ship and, perhaps, effect reform in that way. It's hard to imagine anything you do at the local level suddenly becoming impossible because you are no longer affiliated with a corrupt national organization. Life insurance is not a uniquely Catholic business or service.

To summarize: No one is questioning the good deeds of the Knights of Columbus. What is being questioned is whether the Knights of Columbus are willing to confront robustly the Culture of Death which, in clear instances, is encouraged and facilitated by its own members. Those who make allowances for members guilty of supporting the Culture of Death are equally guilty. The Knights of Columbus need to rid themselves of their own "filth" just as the Church is seeking to do with aberrant clergy. Those who support the murder of children have no place in either the Catholic Church or the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights of Columbus have three available courses of action: 1) The current general staff can experience repentance and conversion and purge its ranks of traitors to K of C ideals and principles; 2) The current general staff can be replaced with new general staff who will purge the ranks of traitors to K of C ideals and principles; or 3) Current state and local councils can withdraw from the national organization and continue to do the good work they are doing. In the case of individual Knights, they can choose to stay and fight or look elsewhere for other ways to serve Our Lord and His Church.

It could be argued that headquarters is, more than anything, an insurance company that derives great benefit from trading on its reputation as a faithful Catholic organization. A reasonable person could conclude that Catholicism has become a necessary veneer to aid in the sale of insurance but is not a unifying principle.