In a troubling new report, the National Catholic Reporter released its findings of an investigation into the Knights of Columbus’ finances. The report includes multiple insights relevant to Catholic LGBT issues, as the Knights have been leading opponents of equality.
Tom Roberts, NCR’s editor-at-large, acknowledged the Knights’ significant charitable record. Yet he said the effects of their wealth does not end there:
“For more than a decade and a half, under the leadership of a former political operative, the Knights of Columbus has increasingly used its enormous wealth to influence the direction of the church, underwriting think tanks and news outlets while gaining entrée to some of the highest levels of decision-making in the church.
“Its capacity for funding has given the Knights of Columbus an inordinately loud voice, potentially drowning out that of others, and no other lay group can match the Knights’ ability to leave its mark on the church. Some worry that such influence can actually distort the church’s ecclesiology, its structure and its governance.”
The Knights have made contributions to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including nearly $1 million for programs “not least of which is the persistent claim by the bishops’ conference that religious liberty is under attack in the United States” and their annual Fortnight for Freedom. Roberts continued:
“If funding is any indication, however, the Knights are deeply engaged in the culture wars with some of the largest grants going to the loudest and most influential participants in the church and the public square.”
Grant recipients have included the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a key organization in seeking to ensure LGBT discrimination remains legal, and the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, where last year Cardinal Robert Sarah described LGBT human rights as a “demonic gender ideology.” The Knights also fund rightwing trainings for Catholic bishops:
“Between 2010 and 2014, according to earlier NCR reporting, the Knights spent more than $1.4 million to sponsor Catholic bishops attending medical ethics workshops that included speakers opposing homosexuality, same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting. Presentations included psychologically discredited claims that people who identify as gay or transgender can be ‘cured’ through counseling and can become heterosexual.
“The anti-gay training for bishops is coordinated by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, according to a 2014 report in NCR by Nicole Sotelo. The center is another organization that receives Knights of Columbus support. In 2014, it received $250,000; in 2015, $300,617.”
Finally, the Knights also support conservative media outlets, such as the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and its subsidiaries, Catholic News Agency, ACI Prensa, and the National Catholic Register.These outlets have overplayed alleged cases of discrimination against Christians because of expanding LGBT rights. The Knights also fund Crux with $350,000 of the news website’s $850,000 annual budget.
These anti-LGBT activities largely result from the direction which Supreme Knight Carl Anderson has pushed the Knights since assuming leadership in 2000. Anderson’s former career was in politics, including working for President Ronald Reagan and former Senator Jesse Helms, who opposed civil rights laws. About Anderson’s time in the White House, Roberts reported:
“Notably, when the issue of AIDS first surfaced, Anderson differed with then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on how to speak of the disease. Anderson wanted the government to use language that contained moral judgments about those afflicted. According to Koop’s autobiography, Anderson also wanted the surgeon general to say that ‘all Americans [not most Americans, as Koop maintained] are opposed to homosexuality, promiscuity of any kind and prostitution.’ Koop wrote that Anderson ‘did not seem to understand that I could not say it because it was not true.'”
Beyond political concerns, the Knights’ influence may be warping the structures and functioning of the Catholic Church itself. Their wealth, and in turn charitable giving, has meant the Knights have unique access to many church leaders. Anderson has been granted papal audiences, been an auditor at the Synod of Bishops, and served on U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committees, all extremely rare opportunities for laypeople. These moments are key opportunities by which Anderson and the Knights can push their right-wing, anti-LGBT agenda.
Theologian Massimo Faggioli expressed concern about the church being so politicized because “a rather limited number of conservative Catholic voices from the West can have their voices heard much louder” than others in the church. He continued:
“‘From an ecclesiological point of view, it is a distortion because the Catholic Church is based on an idea of leadership where the sensus fidelium, the voice of the faithful, should be equal for all the faithful. . .There should be a fundamental equality, so the sense of the faith in Africa or Latin America or Asia, with no money, should carry the same weight, currency, relevance, authority, as a wealthy Catholic in the Northern Hemisphere.'”
Faggioli’s observation is true, too, for LGBT Catholic and their families, whose voices should have an equal place in the church’s conversation. Yet, because of conservative wealth and power like that of the Knights, marginalized Catholics remain silenced and excluded.
In December 2016, Nicole Sotelo wrote in the National Catholic Reporter about church worker justice and the Knights. With so many dioceses and church institutions offering benefits programs through the Knights, there should be transparency for employees about where their money is going when the Knights invest it. Sotelo also reported in 2014 about the Knights’ extensive funding of anti-LGBT trainings for bishops.
A 2012 report revealed the millions of dollars which the Knights leadership invested in anti-marriage equality campaigns, often without members knowledge. At the time, former vice-president of the organization’s insurance division, Michael O’Keefe, criticized the Knights’ anti-LGBT work saying it tarnished their Catholic tradition.
Tom Roberts’ report is further evidence that greatly expands and deepens public understandings of the Knights, and confirms what LGBT advocates have known about the organization’s extensive attempt to stop the expansion of LGBT human rights.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 7, 2017