Knights in Tarnished Armor

May 25, 2010 - 12:26 PM
Growing up in suburban Los Angeles, I was not immune to those fairy tales that invited little minds to imagine what it would be like to be Maid Marian or Sir Lancelot or maybe even Cinderella. As I grew older, however, I came to appreciate knights for a totally different reason because several of my uncles were members of the Knights of Columbus.
Growing up in suburban Los Angeles, I was not immune to those fairy tales that invited little minds to imagine what it would be like to be Maid Marian or Sir Lancelot or maybe even Cinderella. As I grew older, however, I came to appreciate knights for a totally different reason because several of my uncles were members of the Knights of Columbus.

In fact, one of them was part of the escort to Cardinal James Francis McIntyre who conferred the sacrament of Confirmation on yours truly. So you see, knights are really special to me.

Perhaps that is why the latest news of the national offices of the Knights of Columbus is particularly devastating to me. God rest my uncles and praise God they are not here to witness the current debacle. Who would have ever guessed that the Knights of Columbus leadership would “refuse to allow suspension of members who promote abortion and gay marriage.” Not me!

In the April 19th news report, we read the following:

The leadership of the Knights of Columbus (K of C) has forbidden local councils to take any action against members of the Catholic fraternal organization who support legalized abortion or same-sex marriage.
A Massachusetts K of C member had proposed a resolution, to be taken up by the group's state convention, calling for the suspension of membership of any politician who gave public support to abortion and same-sex marriage. That resolution was declared inappropriate by the Supreme Advocate of the K of C, John Marrella.

In a letter to the Massachusetts K of C leadership, Marrella declared that "a subordinate council may not impose fraternal discipline with respect to a public figure's official actions on matters pertaining to faith and morals. Rather, any such discipline must be made by or at the direction of the Supreme Board of Directors."
"We recognize that some of our members who are public figures may use their public position to advocate or support policy positions that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church on matters of faith and morals," Marrella conceded in his letter. He went on to admit that such public advocacy "contradicts the Catholic identity and mission of the Order."

Nevertheless, the top legal official of the K of C said that any action taken against K of C members who are public figures would "necessarily affect the entire Order." For that reason, he said, any disciplinary action should be taken by the group's top leadership.

Marrella went on to say that the K of C would not go further than the American bishops in taking public action against members whose public stands conflict with Church moral teachings. "If the public figure's bishop has not excommunicated him for his public positions on issues relating to matters of faith and morals, it would be highly inappropriate for the Knights of Columbus to do so," he wrote.

The word “inappropriate” when used to describe the reasons why the leadership of the K of C will not approve removing Catholics from their ranks who defy Catholic teaching through their public action simply drives me mad! What are these men thinking?

Well, I can tell you. But I would prefer to defer to my favorite Catholic news analyst for his take on this fiasco. That would be Phil Lawler, who opined in “Of Knights and bishops … and getting rooked!”:

Is it possible to be a Catholic "knight" who favors not the protection, but the extermination of the helpless unborn? Evidently, yes.

The national directive from K of C leadership, warning local councils that they cannot suspend the membership of abortion supporters, is couched in neutral language, suggesting that any such move to oust a member must be approved at the very top levels of the fraternal order. But are the top leaders of the K of C ready to take action? To the best of my knowledge, they have never yet ousted a member because of his support for abortion. If the local councils are forbidden to act, and the national leadership is unwilling to act, then the disgrace will continue: prominent men who support the killing of the unborn will be allowed to parade around in the guise of Catholic knighthood.

In his attempt to justify this policy of inaction, Supreme Advocate John Marrella writes: "If the public figure's bishop has not excommunicated him for his public positions on issues relating to matters of faith and morals, it would be highly inappropriate for the Knights of Columbus to do so."

Well, yes. It would be "highly inappropriate" for the Knights of Columbus to excommunicate a member. It would also be impossible.

The Knights do not have the authority to deprive their members of the sacraments, nor is anyone suggesting that they should do so. What some K of C members do suggest is that pro-abortion politicians should be deprived of the privileges of membership in a private fraternal organization. 

The Knights should look to their bishops for leadership on questions of faith and morals. But on questions of practical politics--the realm of the laity--the Knights should set their own course. Let the bishops decide whether an individual Catholic has separated himself from the Church. But the Knights can decide for themselves whether a man has separated himself from their fraternity.

The Knights set their own standards for membership. Some members have been removed from the rolls for failure to pay their dues; some have been ejected because they engaged in public attacks on the order. Are these more serious offenses than support for abortion? 

If the Knights of Columbus are engaged in mounting a serious crusade--not merely in putting together a congenial social network or a successful insurance business--they must adopt some serious internal discipline. It's impossible to fight a crusade effectively as long as enemies are welcome within your own ranks.

From time to time a friend asks me why I've never expressed interest in joining the K of C. Now you know why. Let me know when they get serious.

Of course, Phil, being the man of integrity that he is, also noted that the K of C have responded to his wisdom, so naturally I had to read what was written. So sad that I did. In part, the response reads as follows
Once a man becomes a brother Knight, our principles of charity, unity and fraternity require that we regard him as a brother in all respects, even when he may stray from the teachings of the Church. Our responsibility in such circumstances is to try to help him embrace the fullness of the Catholic faith.

This sounds like the attitude one might find at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or something similar, but not from a fraternity expressing its Catholic identity in the public square. Of course it is their responsibility to help their fellow Catholics embrace the fullness of Catholic faith!  

But abortion is murder, my friends. And if a Knight can sit down with a fellow Knight who supports an act that is a direct attack on God Himself and His creation, then for what does the K of C really stand? How do you help a wayward Knight see the tragedy of his position and the endangerment of his own soul if you refuse to acknowledge publicly the reasons why his position should disqualify him from being a member of the fraternity?

Perhaps the answer comes from current member Thomas Peters, who opined, “Unfortunately, the leadership of the Knights appears to be trying to avoid the thorny issue of dissension within their ranks. It is because of this vacuum of leadership that local and state councils are trying to take matters into their own hands.” True enough.

In the past forty years, I have seen a lot of foot dragging, evasion and downright intentional ignoring of what is happening in this nation as the body count rises and an ever-growing number of Catholic institutions flounder. This most recent public brouhaha is just another symptom of the times. 

For many years prior to this public betrayal of truth, we tried to help local and state K of C leaders politely cajole their national leaders into understanding the reasons why it was a dichotomy for the K of C to describe their organization and their members as Catholic while turning a blind eye toward those who defy Christ. 

But now, with this public statement of intransigence, we’re in a new game—public warfare in defense of truth.

This is why when C.J. Doyle of Catholic Action League of Massachusetts told LifeSiteNews, "This essentially kills any grassroots initiative in the Knights of Columbus to get rid of the pro-abortion politicians in the K of C,” I could have screamed!

No, C.J., it does not. What it does make clear is that the K of C needs to witness a massive withdrawal of members who tear up their membership cards and make a point of saying why they are doing it in a very public way. Fight back, C.J.! 

In closing, let me just say that once again I find myself decidedly grateful to God that He created me female. I may be part of the fairer sex but I know where my backbone is.