Remaking the Knights of Columbus

Jae C. Hong AP Knights of Columbus honor guard rehearses before the session at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, … Continued

Jae C. Hong

AP

Knights of Columbus honor guard rehearses before the session at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 28, 2012.

It was wrong for the Knights of Columbus to spend over a half million dollars in 2012 during four failed campaigns against same-sex marriage laws. My claim that the expenditures were “wrong” has nothing to do with moral and doctrinal opinions on same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception, etc. The paid political propagandizing was wrong because it contradicts the original organizational purpose of the Knights of Columbus. We were founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1881 to provide spiritual and material brotherhood to Catholic men. The chasm separating the original vision from the current drift, I contend, is unhealthy to the Knights of Columbus future.

I joined the K of C some 15 years ago, attracted to a hands-on practice of Catholicism. Our council sponsored pancake breakfasts to raise money for parish youth ministry, ran the parking during the parish carnival, and rented buses for father-son (and some grandfather-grandson) outings. I welcomed the departure from academic armchair Catholicism that had me talking more about Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day than in acting like them. Moreover, this K of C council was a “brotherhood,” supplying healthy male fellowship — and a great insurance plan as well!

I am not the only one alarmed that the current national leadership is squandering material resources on causes that are purely political and dangerously partisan. While the Knights in my current local council sustain my original expectations, the well compensated Supreme Knight Carl Anderson (over $1 million per year) is busy gathering national headlines for bankrolling political “stuff. Doubtlessly, his record of service outweighs my undistinguished 15 years as a Knight, but has he chosen the right direction for the long-term good of our membership?

At issue are not my political opinions or those of Supreme Knight Anderson: the discontent rises from the use of money that could be better spent on the Knights of Columbus traditional role in alleviating poverty by direct material aid to those in need, like the victims of Hurricane Sandy, where our contribution to date is far less than what was made to 2012 same-sex marriage politics. Admittedly, the sum spent on political causes is dwarfed in the total K of C budget, but “image” counts, as Supreme Knight Anderson should know from his time in the Reagan White House’s public relations effort. Why has he allowed our national image to be politicized at the expense of our grass-roots charity?

Commitment to the K of C brotherhood is based on Gospel values. Our saintly founder, Fr. McGivney intended, for instance, that the K of C would provide funding to the widows and orphans of his 1881 Catholic working-class parish in Connecticut. Today’s financing of attempts at political influence – even when requested by our bishops – betrays our founding principles. We lay Catholic Knights do not have the inquisitorial function of the bishops to denounce divorced and remarriage or use of artificial contraception. Our task, rather, is to receive in love the children of God, preaching the Gospel by example.

Our charity bears no exceptions. For example, there is scarcely a Knight unaware of gays and lesbians who are good people: in fact, some are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters. It is not our Catholic duty to punish them because they do not receive the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage; but it is our patriotic American duty to recognize their civil rights in “pursuit of happiness.” Such American Catholic Knights of Columbus’ principles are contradicted when the lay leader of our national organization funds a political campaign to deny those same persons equality before the law.

So what can we do? We Knights at the local level do not elect the Supreme Knight, so mobilizing a pitchfork brigade of voters is useless. Splitting off from the organization to create a rival one would result in two weaker factions, and which one would control the considerable K of C financial assets?

At issue is our vision: are the Knights of Columbus to be restored as a grass-roots charitable movement or to continue in the corporate business model of today? Are we to be more like the Catholic Workers of the saintly Dorothy Day or a financial cow for causes the bishops can’t or won’t fund on their own? At stake is not some partisan political stance, but the future of the Knights of Columbus. Since the average Knight these days is middle-aged, middle-class and white, unless we attract younger and more diverse Catholics, we may go the way church membership nationally, where one third of those raised Catholic have left the church.

Remaking the K of C, I would say, is part of the remaking of American Catholicism. We need to reject the worldly ways of the corporate model for church institutions. The Knights of Columbus can be in the vanguard by returning to our legacy as a Catholic brotherhood.

About

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • thebump

    Once again, the author’s own ideological partisanship comes shining through — to say nothing of his profound confusion regarding the particular moral truths that he gamely denies he is attacking.

  • Elohist

    Yes, the author is clearly on the side of God and the church while the Knights have become servants of Mammon and the right-wing. The moral truth of loving your neighbor is an obvious motivation of the professor and he is placing Jesus’ commandments over the political correctness of Anderson. At last some one willing to attack corruption in the church!

  • Union1

    Brother Stevens Arroyo is on firm ground. As a Knight, of some 44 years, and a member of the 4th Degree and a PGK I share his views on these issues. Unfortunately much of the organizations leadership above the council level is homophobic and intolerant.

    I have not abandoned my membership in the K of C despite this intolerance only because I have not forgotten the Lord’s command that we “Love one another.” But maintaining my membership out of a sense of defiance of the Order’s leadership and the failures of the Church are not satisfying at all. Stevens Arroyo is right but it gets harder to justify belonging to the K of C every year.

  • tony55398

    One more reason I would never join the Knights.

  • SODDI

    Knights of Columbus is a hate group, isn’t it?

  • jack824

    Carl Anderson leveraged KoC and its balance sheet for political gain snd drove off many of the under-65 men in our area. He’s a huckster, not a steward.

  • sm486

    One wonders if the author is equally disturbed by the political contributions of other organizations. Why no commentary on Planned Parenthood’s political expenditures? How about Catholics United’s — the group he links to? Are they allowed to spend money on political causes, but the Knights aren’t? It strikes me as inconsistent for the author to object to political expenditures that don’t mesh with his own political beliefs, but then to stay mum on spending that he approves of.

    He wants the Knights to spend differently because he wants the Knights to believe differently. If the Knights were spending money FOR same-sex marriage, would the author care? I suspect that admonishment would give way to applause.

    The Knights have principles too, and it’s their right to support them.

    The author also mentions that “the sum spent on political causes is dwarfed in the total K of C budget.” That’s putting it mildly! I think it’s something like 1/10 of one percent.

    The Knights donate hundreds of millions on charity and spend nearly as many hours volunteering.

    Lamenting that an organization that does that much doesn’t do enough is almost as absurd as complaining that a Catholic organization is Catholic.

  • WS86

    The Knights of Columbus should not be reduced to a pancake-flipping, charitable organization. The KofC has a long history of political involvement. In the 50s KofC sent the resolution to the president to include the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. In the early 20s KofC helped fund the case against an Oregon Law which required all children to attend only public schools thus shutting down Catholic and other private schools. In the late 20s KofC urged the US government to look into the persecution of Catholics in Mexico. In the 90s KofC submitted a brief support of the Federal Equal Access Act before the Supreme Court, which in June upheld its constitutionality, thereby permitting student religious groups to meet on public school grounds outside class hours. There are many more examples throughout the history of the KofC like these. The insinuation that this is a new direction under the current KofC leadership is without a doubt completely false.

  • di89

    There is nothing wrong with K of C standing up for those moral values, in and of itself. That is indeed part of Catholic teaching.

    But when they come off as a group that exists primarily or solely to fight abortion and gay marriage, making it look like Catholicism begins and ends with that, and that not much else really matters…is that all you’ve got? Really?

  • Elohist

    In all the instances WS86 cites, the Knights were in FAVOR of MORE freedom in the US experience. The change of direction is what is disturbing. Now the Knights are AGAINST more freedom by attacking American exceptionalism and sponsoring theocratic moral interference. The concrete examples provided in the article about the new direction of the Knights is spot on. Too bad WS86 doesn’t grasp the enormous and dangerous difference.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Exactly what did adding ‘under God’ to the pledge of allegiance at the peak of the red scare have to do with expanding freedom? This was one of the more unconstitutional travesties in American legal history.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    In the 21st century United States, Catholic identity begins and ends with fighting abortion and gay marriage.

  • Catken1

    ” Why no commentary on Planned Parenthood’s political expenditures?”

    Planned Parenthood maybe isn’t an organization he belongs to or cares about, and thus doesn’t feel he has a say in how they spend their money? Maybe they don’t represent his religion in particular, as the Knights claim to, and don’t therefore claim to speak for members of his faith?

    ” If the Knights were spending money FOR same-sex marriage, would the author care? I suspect that admonishment would give way to applause. ”

    Well, and we might also applaud people who supported the right to interracial marriage, while condemning those who spend lots of money trying to break up marriages like the Lovings’, too. When people stand up for freedom and justice, they get praised – when they work against it, they get criticized.

    Sure, the Knights can stand for “principles” like “your genitals are more important to the worth of your marriage than your heart, your mind and your actions are” or “it’s OK to hurt other people’s marriages, families, and kids, and make their lives harder and more painful, just because they don’t adhere to our religious laws,” but then others will criticize that behavior. And that’s their right, too. If you don’t like the fact that “principles” like “heterosexuals should get special privileges from government others can’t have” or “gay people’s kids shouldn’t get married parents and secure families” get criticized, that’s your problem.

  • Catken1

    Ah, yes, those lovely “particular moral truths”, like “in America, religious freedom means the freedom to follow my religious beliefs in selecting a marriage partner or not being allowed to have a marriage,” or “heterosexuals should get special privileges from government that others can’t have,” or “gay people’s kids don’t deserve married parents and secure families,” or “pregnant women are property to be used by others without concern for their consent or consequences to them or their family”.

    Sure, that’s morality.

  • DavidJ9

    I know a large number of Catholics. None of them want to fight abortion or gay marriage and they wish the bishops would get out of right wing politics and start doing their jobs again.

  • DavidJ9

    Wasn’t it set up as an alternative to the lodges?

  • amelia45

    I really did not know if there were any K of C who felt as you do, so thanks for speaking up. Catholic identity is no longer first identified with Jesus, it is identified with what it is against: abortion, contraceptives, and gay marriage. And if memory serves me, Jesus never said a word about any of those issues. He did say to love God and love one another. When are we going to get to that message?

  • XVIIHailSkins

    The alliance between religion and the right wing didn’t only destroy the Republican Party, the poisonous relationship cuts both ways. Catholic America used to be the single greatest ally to the poor and disenfranchised of this country, now it is simply another cog in the machinery of the proto-fascist far right.

  • ONE OF MANY, USA CITIZEN

    Does the K of C claim tax exempt with their political aims? Is the RCC administration model much like a large corporate model as well off limits to all by their national borders of the Vatican? Is this what Christ wanted of His church?

  • SODDI

    Just remember, the K of C, by affiliating themselves solely with the Reublican Party, is also against gun control.

  • SODDI

    When did what some long-dead Judean wanted ever matter to any christian?

  • Smithers66

    I don’t think the argument is whether or not the “genitals” are compatible but the actual genetic pupose of man and wife in furthering the species.

  • Smithers66

    The Knights are many things but a hate group is not one. Look at all the charity work and tell me that’s hate. Fighting for one’s religious beliefs is not hate either.

  • Smithers66

    There is a big difference between homophobia and loving the original purpose of marriage. I don’t think many people in this world are genuinely afraid of gay people, although there are people who hate them. Haven’t met anyone in any Catholic organization who “hates” homosexuals.

  • Smithers66

    Once you call someone Mammon you lose most of your credibility. Additionally, the vast majority of the world lives in a political climate where heterosexual marriage is the norm and the mainstay of the government’s policies with unions because that’s what normalcy is. It’s biological and evolutionary.

  • Catken1

    Ah, yes, the “marriage is for physical procreation only’ argument of desperation – you want to exclude gays from marriage, but gays can do everything required by our civil law for marriage, can uphold every right and responsibility required of a married person, can even raise kids well and successfully. So you grab at the one thing gay couples can’t do with each other without help, and claim it’s the only possible purpose for marriage, and that any marriage without it is “fake” (except for the many, many heterosexual marriages which do not involve children bred by the couple, but never mind them, they’re just “overinclusive” – and never mind that we could easily be “overinclusive” with respect to gay couples too, but then, the whole point of the argument in the first place is that you don’t WANT to include them or their families…).

    Problem with that is multifold. First, marriage does absolutely nothing to promote physical fertility. The only effect it has on parenting is on child-REARING, and then you have to explain why kids being raised by gay couples don’t deserve the benefits of married parents and legally-secured families.

    Second, dangling the privileges of marriage in order to encourage heteros to procreate doesn’t work as long as heteros are allowed the privileges of marriage whether they procreate or not. Saying that you’re being “overinclusive” is ridiculous here, because you’re destroying the very incentive you claim to want to further.
    It’s like saying to a group of adults, “I’ll give the women among you a prize if you graduate from college, whether you have babies or not, but not the men, because the prize is intended to encourage women to get pregnant and you can’t get pregnant. Never mind that the prize goes to all the women who graduate from college, whether they get pregnant before graduation, after graduation, or not at all – I’m just being ‘overinclusive’.” Will that strategy tend to result in more pregnancies or ”further the species?”

  • Catken1

    Third, we don’t actually need to push procreation on everyone these days. We’re doing fine as a species on the voluntary contributions of those who actually wish to breed.

    Fourth, most of us actually disapprove morally of those whose only purpose in getting married is to find a fertile person to breed with. Most of us recognize many other purposes in marriage, and consider a marriage less whole, less real if those purposes (love, mutual support, fidelity, commitment) are not a part of it. (Though those marriages are still perfectly legal, mind you, and should be – it’s not government’s place to tell you what the purpose of your marriage ought to be.)

    Fifth, childless married couples don’t actually take anything away from married couples with kids. People aren’t less likely to marry because they want kids and they see couples without kids getting married. My marriage doesn’t mean any less, or help me any less in raising my son, because my sister’s marriage or my grandfather’s marriage to his second wife, my beloved Grandma F., or some gay couple’s marriage, is childless. Married couples without children also serve valuable societal goals through their mutual support and care, decreasing dependence on welfare, and through the increased health and well-being that marriage tends to produce, resulting in fewer costs for everyone.

    But it’s not up to us to justify our free personal choices to government by saying that they serve society’s purposes. We are free citizens, and may live as we see fit, and the burden of proof is on government when government wishes to limit our choices, to point out how our choices inflict direct, and undue, harm on other people or their liberties.

  • Catken1

    “There is a big difference between homophobia and loving the original purpose of marriage.’

    If you can’t support your view that the “original purpose of marriage” is a stud arrangement for breeding purposes only without government favoritism and privileges that others, who have other purposes for their marriages, can’t have, your beliefs aren’t strong enough or valid enough to deserve government privilege. If you can, you shouldn’t need them.

    Plenty of people marry for reasons other than the desire to breed babies with a fertile partner. Many of us actually view caring for our spouse, providing for each other, supporting each other and (sometimes) raising kids together (not just breeding them) as MORE important than simply “male bits + female bits = babies”.

    I believe that the original purpose of marriage is violated by people who treat it as merely a stud arrangement. If I love the purpose of marriage as a means of mutual support and care, can I take away your marriage, since you obviously don’t value those aspects of marriage?

  • Catken1

    “Additionally, the vast majority of the world lives in a political climate where heterosexual marriage is the norm and the mainstay of the government’s policies with unions because that’s what normalcy is. It’s biological and evolutionary.”

    Hetero marriage will always be in the majority. Government does not need to give people special privileges for choosing an opposite-sex partner in order to motivate most of us to do so, as it’s perfectly natural to do so for most of us.

    It isn’t, however, natural for gay people to do so, and it’s not good policy for government to deny them legal protections that help them care for and support the partners they do love (because that saves us all money), or to push them into sham marriages with people they cannot love, people who deserve better than a partner who only married them because government told them it was right to do so.

    Anyway, if gay marriage didn’t serve an evolutionary purpose, natural selection would keep it down to only the mutation rate – there are far more gay people in the population than that, though, so there must be some biological reason for maintaining a minority of gay people in the population. Among reasons I’ve seen suggested are 1) gay people aid their straight relatives in raising more babies, a particularly important and time-consuming task in an intelligent, social species with a long childhood, and/or 2) homosexuality is a genetic side effect of selection for bisexuality, which allows members of a social group to bond with, form alliances with, and defuse potential violence from members of the same sex as well as the opposite sex. Either way, it’s a perfectly natural and normal human variation.

    But we still don’t need to justify the choices we make to government by saying they serve an evolutionary purpose, or proving they’re somehow “normal” – government needs to justify limiting our choices by proving clear harm done by some choices to others or to others’ liberties.

  • SODDI

    But fight to impose those religious beliefs on others not of your particular religion IS hate.

  • mikestech

    Neither the Knights nor American Catholicism need to be “remade” to fit the politically correct vision folks like this writer want. God bless the Knights of Columbus for standing up for truly Catholic principles — which includes defending the God-given purpose of marriage — regardless of how popular they are. It’s this fidelity to truth — rather than feel-good fraternity — that ensure the Knights of Columbus has a bright future, and one that I myself would be proud to join.

  • Dr Tom Cavanagh

    As a former member of the Knights, a past Grand Knight, and son of a Past State Deputy, I am sorely disappointed in the Knight’s involvement in politics. I distinctly remember when I joined the Knights I was admonished not to bring politics into the Knights. Now I have left the Knights because politics have been brought into the Knights.

  • CFS

    Compassionate care involves both the human touch of extending a helping hand and the larger task of making sure that larger structures (e.g. the laws of government) support authentic human flourishing.

    I’m a relatively new Knight and I’m proud to be part of the organization (even though I lean more toward the Democrats than towards the Republicans) because of it’s good works for the community and its political engagement (both noble virtues). Being a voice in policy-making has long been a feature of the KofC. Contributing to political dialogue at higher levels is not detrimental to grassroots engagement. In fact, local engagement implies involvement in the larger structures which shape the local community.

    The bishops can’t be overly political. That’s why groups of laypeople like the KofC exist–building up the polis through service and advocacy in our families, parishes, towns, and even at the state and national levels.

    Its involvement in supporting, among other things, families (both through practical aid and policy measures)is part of the vision of the founder (despite the wishful thinking of Stevens-Arroyo).

  • CFS

    The compassion care spoken of in the Gospels involves both the human touch of extending a helping hand and the larger task of making sure that larger structures (e.g. the laws of government) support authentic human flourishing.

    I’m a relatively new Knight and I’m proud to be part of the organization (even though I lean more toward the Democrats than towards the Republicans) because of it’s good works for the community and its political engagement (both noble virtues). Being a voice in policy-making has long been a feature of the KofC. Contributing to political dialogue at higher levels is not detrimental to grassroots engagement. In fact, local engagement implies involvement in the larger structures which shape the local community.

    The bishops can’t be overly political. That’s why groups of laypeople like the KofC exist–building up the polis through service and advocacy in our families, parishes, towns, and even at the state and national levels.

    Its involvement in supporting, among other things, families (both through practical aid and policy measures) is a part of the vision of the founder (despite the wishful thinking of Stevens-Arroyo).

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