By Randy Sly
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Upon visiting the website pewsitter.com today I was confronted with a large rendering of the Knights of Columbus logo and the headline, "Knights Say They Cannot Expel Pro-Abort, Pro-Gay Marriage Members But Have Expelled Pro-Lifers." [Hmm... That would really catch you attention, eh?]
As a Catholic and Fourth Degree Knight [Like me!] I was saddened that a fraternal order of men who have contributed so much to the pro-life movement would end up in the cross hairs of such an assault. [Like me!!!]
The link on Pew Sitter takes the reader to a press release from Ken Fisher, of Concerned Roman Catholics of America, calling upon pro-life Catholics to picket the Supreme Convention in Washington next week. [Which I just featured...]
"Pro-life Catholics should make sure that every Knight at the convention knows that the leaders of the Order have refused, in writing, to stop harboring pro-abortion politicians in the Knights," Fisher stated.
Life, as a platform, is not up for discussion in the Order. The Knights of Columbus are among the most active organizations when it comes to the pro-life cause.
The Supreme website underscores this, stating, "Every life is sacred, from the moment of conception till natural death. As Knights of Columbus, we are called to defend the dignity of each human being at every stage and work together in building a culture of life and a civilization of love.
"In the continual battle for the rights of unborn children and the elderly, Knights of Columbus members, their families and all pro-life supporters need to change hearts as they strive to change laws.
"They must witness to the injustice of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, as they assist pregnant women in need, tend to vulnerable handicapped persons and care for the elderly."
In addition to their own pro-life initiatives, the Knights strongly support activities of other organizations such as the March for Life and Birthright USA.
The issue behind the inflated headline involves a resolution introduced at the Massachusetts State Convention calling for the suspension of membership for any Knight in public office who gives public support to abortion or same-sex marriage. [Remember pro-abortion Knight, the late senator Ted Kennedy? He was under the KofC Massachusetts State.]
The resolution was declared to be procedurally improper [huh?!] by the Supreme Advocate of the Knight, John Marrella. In a letter to the Massachusetts leadership, he 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." [I will dwell on this further in a future post where I will quote the process of expelling erring Knights.]
Marrella went on to say, "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."
The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts had publically supported the proposed resolution at the state convention. When Supreme stepped in, they condemned the action as an "abdication of responsibility."
I personally agree that those who hold contrary positions to that of the Knights regarding abortion and same-sex marriage ought not to be members, since they are technically not "practical" Catholics, which is the measure of orthodoxy for membership. [Which I do too!]
The Knights define a practical Catholic as one who is "in union with the Holy See and, in general, regulates his life according to the teachings of Christ and the Church, and endeavors to observe the commandments of God and of the Church."
As a convert, I would also love to see the same stricture for anyone in union with the Holy See and member of the Catholic Church.
So, ought a man who is pro-choice become a Knight? No, I don't think so. Can a man who is pro-choice become a Knight? Actually, he can - by just answering "yes" to the question of being a practical Catholic. I would think, however, that afterward he should have to deal with issues of conscience.
However, an unbridled initiative toward expulsion of members could lead the fraternal order to expend large amounts of time and energy in a "witch-hunt" that could be likened to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's. [Huh?! How about expelling members who cause scandal in the Church? Those who continue to exhibit public sins like supporting abortion?]
Last fall Bishop Tobin prohibited Representative Patrick Kennedy from receiving communion due to his pro-abortion position. This was not done to influence the way he was voting but awaken him to the fact he had abandoned his Catholic faith.
Such disciplinary actions on the part of the Church are not just punitive but protective, keeping the communicant from accepting the sacraments without being in a proper state of grace.
I would hope any actions by the Knights issue from a desire for restoration. We need to call erring politicians - in fact, all brother Knights - to not only accept but embrace the wisdom and teaching of the Church of the matters of life and sexuality. [Which then leads me to ask this question? Should we then have these erring Knights suspended or expelled? If we are to "awaken him" then let us put this erring Knight under suspension so as to give him time to correct his ways. If he insists on his wrong ways by supporting the murder of unborn human babies, then expel him!]
The Catholic Church is currently facing the most intense onslaught of public attacks in decades, perhaps centuries. In the midst of this, we have those who choose to propagate in-fighting rather than trying the longer and more laborious route toward improvement.
It may have been Paul Harvey who first said that "the Christian army is the only army in the world that finishes off its own wounded."
Rather than picket or point fingers, I would hope that pro-life Catholics would pray for the Knights who will be at the Supreme Convention. We need to pray that they take an honest look at the issues and its implications concerning membership in the order.
By his own description, Fisher is neither a theologian nor canon lawyer. I would hope that among the faithful Knights there are those who are either or both and are willing to address the subject in a manner that will bring resolution not revolution. [Will there be a resolution? Was there an attempt to meet this head on? Or was someone too chicken to face this and be man or knight enough to do say what is right and what is wrong? While we languish at debating, more babies are being murdered all in the name of respecting others opinion and being open to discussion!]
In his statement, Fisher brought up the words of the late John Cardinal O'Connor once said, "the Knights do not have to wait for the bishops to discipline erring Knights." My supreme hope (pun intended) is that we will rise to the occasion in a way that is honoring to Christ and His Church as well as edifying to our erring members. [AMEN TO THAT!!!]