The Knight of Columbus, the second largest Catholic organization besides the Church itself, appears to be deeply involved in contested political areas.
Many Episcopalians are familiar with the Knights of Columbus. The Catholic men’s organization has a reputation for parish involvement, volunteer service, and charitable contributions. They will be celebrating their 130th anniversary of their incorporation as a benefit society, since their founding by Father Michael J. McGivney, assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven and some of his parishioners by the Connecticut state legislature on March 29, 1882. Officially chartered as a fraternal benefit society, their website maintains that the Knights of Columbus is still true to its founding principles of charity, unity and fraternity. From their website:
All the good works we do are informed by our four core principles:
Charity - Our Catholic faith teaches us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Members of the Knights of Columbus show love for their neighbors by conducting food drives and donating the food to local soup kitchens and food pantries, by volunteering at Special Olympics, and by supporting, both spiritually and materially, mothers who choose life for their babies. Knights recognize that our mission, and our faith in God, compels us to action. There is no better way to experience love and compassion than by helping those in need, a call we answer every day.
Unity – None of us is as good as all of us. Members of the Knights of Columbus all know that – together – we can accomplish far more than any of us could individually. So we stick together…we support one another. That doesn’t mean that we always agree or that there is never a difference of opinion. It does mean that – as a Knight of Columbus – you can count on the support and encouragement of your brother Knights as you work to make life better in your parish and community.
Fraternity – The Venerable Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, in large part, to provide assistance to the widows and children left behind when the family breadwinner died – often prematurely. The Order’s top-rated insurance program continues to do this today, as do individual Knights, who last year gave more than 10 million hours of their time to assist sick and/or disabled members and their families. In the Knights of Columbus, we watch out for and take care of one another.
Patriotism – Members of the Knights of Columbus, be they Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Cubans, Filipinos, Poles, or Dominicans, are patriotic citizens. We are proud of our devotion to God and country, and believe in standing up for both. Whether it’s in public or private, the Knights remind the world that Catholics support their nations and are amongst the greatest citizens.
The use of financial resources by the Knights of Columbus, then, of which many are unaware, has led to controversy, Adam Polaski writes in The Bilerico Project:
One of the primary functions of the group is to financially support organizations that align with the membership's views. That's all well and good when they're supporting, say, disaster relief in Haiti. But last year, news surfaced that in 2009, the organization had donated $1.4 million to the National Organization for Marriage, the anti-gay organization that's been named an official hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. That single donation is almost half of the $3.5 million the organization spent on all of its "Community Projects" in 2009, which included contributing to relief efforts, sustaining food pantries, and helping homeless shelters.
Nicole Sotelo, in the National Catholic Reporter, has pointed out that this is one of many controversial focuses by the Knights of Columbus on a national level:
Among the "community projects," the Knights contributed $5,000 to disaster relief in Indiana and $3,000 to the community soup kitchen in New Haven, Conn., where the organization is headquartered, according to the 2010 Annual Report of the Supreme Knight. This deserves applause, until you learn that under the same category of "community projects," they financed a $530,000 contribution to the Becket Fund, an organization of politically controversial lawyers. Do these lawyers really need the Knights' charity?
Additionally, in 2009 and 2010, Knights officials contributed $200,000 as noted in annual reports to Vox Clara, the bishops' committee responsible for turning back the clock on the liturgy and implementing the recent controversial language changes in the Mass. They have been a significant funder of the committee since 2006.
Over the same time period, the Knights donated almost $1.2 million to fund the bishops' newly created committee that works against equal protection for gays and lesbians and dubbed it "charity" in their annual report.
One of most stunning revelations, laments Sotelo, is the Knights contributions (around $500,000 annually) towards the Catholic Information Service, which goes beyond normal church teaching:
For example, on the topic of same-gender orientation, the Knights' pamphlet ignores that the bishops acknowledge homosexual orientation and instead purports: "... The only genuinely [sic] sexual orientation is heterosexual. ... There are no homosexuals but only heterosexuals with a homosexual problem" (excerpt from Same Sex Attraction: Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Practice, pg. 6).
In the Knights' pamphlet on women, the author writes that the "the key feature of femininity [is] receptivity ... to accept and affirm everything simply as it is. This is contrasted with the masculine soul, which reflects God's creativity, and which has been fashioned to take initiative -- to 'make' and to 'do'" (excerpt from The Gift of Woman, pg. 11, italics not mine).
Where do top officials of the Knights acquire the resources to fund all this programming? Take a look at your insurance policy or your yearly charitable contributions. You may be indirectly supporting some of these programs.
As word spreads about what a small circle of high-level Knights are doing with the annual "charitable contributions," this reputable fraternity could lose the trust of supportive Catholics. The Knights' reputation could be lost not only if they continue funding programming that goes against what the majority of Catholics believe, but funding what is disproportionate to their claim of serving the most vulnerable.
It is extremely disappointing to see this change of focus from a historically worthwhile group: one that still boldly proclaims "In service to One. In service to all."