For decades, the Knights of Columbus have supported a host of charitable causes, funding everything from social services to the Church’s educational mission. Yet, Nicole Sotelo, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, writes about a new, darker side of these charitable donations, as the Knights redefine charity to include anti-LGBT political efforts.
Sotelo reports that $1.4 million listed under ‘charitable contributions’ was really spent sending bishops to medical ethics workshops sponsored by the conservative National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC). These workshops have happened regularly since the 1980s, and have recently added an anti-LGBT emphasis which Sotelo details further:
“For example, last year’s workshop featured the conservative psychologist and activist Thomas Finn, who presented on ‘Same-Sex Parenting Studies.’ He is known for disputing mainstream research, telling lawmakers, and now bishops, that children who grow up with same-gender parents are ‘vulnerable to risks such as increased presence of sexually transmitted disease, violence, substance abuse, mental health problems, etcetera.’
“At the 2011 workshop, bishops heard from Brian Brown, president of National Organization for Marriage, an anti-LGBT political organization that works against marriage equality. He spoke to the bishops not about medical ethics, but about ‘Same Sex “Marriage” ‘ (the quotes around ‘marriage’ are his).
“The same year, bishops heard a presentation on ‘Same-Sex Attraction and Gender Identity’ by Richard Fitzgibbons, who runs a conservative counseling center. Fitzgibbons has written extensively on his belief that people who identify as gay or transgender can be cured through counseling, something that the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have both rejected.”
The National Catholic Bioethics Center also publishes resources and articles which target LGBT legislation and spread false information about LGBT people. Sotelo is clear that the consequences from misinformed bishops are far wider than a few ignorant prelates:
“While mainstream scientists would disagree with the journal, bishops who believe the NCBC information may go on to make harmful diocesan policies and advocate in legislatures against those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Harmful actions by the bishops have included advocating against fair housing, resisting equal employment opportunities, and preventing standard health care treatment.
“The fact that these “workshops for bishops” and supplementary resources are actually thinly veiled conservative political coachings shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Knights of Columbus vice president for public policy sits on the board of the NCBC, which runs the workshops and resource distribution. Additionally, a large majority of the NCBC’s board of directors reads like a who’s who directory of bishops known for their political work against LGBT equality…
“While the ‘workshops for bishops’ originally focused on the U.S. hierarchy, now the gathering includes bishops from countries such as Canada, Mexico and the Philippines, places where the Knights have membership. Today, the gathering is considered one of the largest regular gatherings of bishops outside of their episcopal conferences.”
Previously, the Knights of Columbus were called out for financing and directing Catholic efforts against marriage equality during the 2012 election cycle. A report by the Equally Blessed coalition found that the Knights spent at least $6.5 million between 2005 and 2012 opposing LGBT legal equality. This effort by the Knights was voted on of the worst Catholic LGBT stories for 2012 by Bondings 2.0 readers.
Sotelo has previously highlighted that ‘family life’ funding exceeded ‘community project’ funding, and used questionable categories in their accounting for what constitutes charity. These latest revelations have Sotelo concluding:
“I am grateful the Knights are interested in educating bishops about medical ethics, but these classes appear less about education and more about politics. Plus, the fact that the Knights’ leadership is using its charitable contributions for politically oriented workshops instead of charity, as their supporters are led to believe, seems anything but ethical.
“The Knights of Columbus leadership themselves could benefit from an ethics workshop, one that focuses on the difference between politics and charity.”
Many Knights of Columbus should be commended for their service to the Church and to the world, but the financing of misinformation about LGBT people and supporting political efforts against their equality is a most damaging indictment of the national organization. As others have written previously, this political work damages the respected tradition of the Knights who cared for those in poverty and on the margins.
There are Knights who are part of the LGBT commmunity themselves, either by being a sexual minority or having family members and close friends of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Instead of funding efforts against people, the Knights should be more transparent and fund efforts which support economically poor people.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry