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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Knights of Columbus Controversy Continued

I've been getting plenty of comments and e-mail flack for my post on the Knights of Columbus. Some of it accuses me of "spread[ing] venom." Other kinder comments address the good the Knights do and compare sinners among their members to the sinners in the Church. They say my position is comparable to urging people to leave the Church because of bad leadership among the bishops. You can read some of the comments here if you're interested.

Let me respond by presenting some scenarios and asking some questions.

1) First of all, let me vehemently disagree that comparing the K of C to the Church is valid. The Church is NOT a human institution like the K of C. She was established by Christ and is infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit. The sins of her members in no way reflect on her indefectability. You cannot say that about the Knights or any other lay organization in the Church. So that's off the table.

Quitting the Knights, on the other hand, is a matter of prudential judgment. Catholics can disagree about it, and make their cases without resorting to calling each other names.

2) So....let's consider some questions. Suppose you joined a national pro-life group, let's call it Defenders of the Unborn. And suppose the organization's charter claimed their major goal was ending abortion, but you discovered that members (even leaders) were working as hard as they could to keep the murder of babies legal. Suppose again that your local chapter attempted to throw out a politician who was the major proponent of legislation to protect and expand the killing in your state. When the national office got word, they instructed your chapter, in no uncertain terms, not to expell or challenge any member on these grounds, but treat them as members in good standing. In fact, if a member did raise a fuss even in a private conversation with the pro-abortion member at a meeting, he would be rebuked by the leadership and persecuted. How long would you stay in that "pro-life" group?

3) Why did Jesus condemn the Pharisees? After all, they fasted and tithed and went out of their way to avoid ritual uncleanliness. Wasn't it because their words and their actions were in conflict? And didn't Jesus found a NEW CHURCH, one that was indefectable in its doctrines despite the hypocrisy of some of its members, a Church protected by the Holy Spirit?

4) If an organization within that Church claims to follow the principles of the Church but does not, and, in fact, causes public scandal by its actions or inactions should it be supported?

5) Was Jesus serious when he condemned hypocrisy?

6) Isn't it possible that the best way to reform an organization (one that is not infallibly protected by the Holy Spirit) is to leave it with the proviso that you'll return when they clean up their act?
I love our local parish council of the Knights of Columbus. The men in it are dedicated, hard-working and faithful (especially my favorite Knight -- the one I live with). Our parish could not function as well as it does without our Knights' council.

Having said that, the men could serve the parish just as well if they renamed themselves the Knights of Our Lady and pulled out from under the National K of C umbrella. And I guarantee that if 10-20% of the councils around the country, especially the big, rich ones, voted to leave,  the Knights of Columbus would change almost overnight.

Sometimes, it's impossible to reform an organization from within. Look at the Republican Party. Pro-lifers have been trying to reform it for four decades with little impact. The tea party movement has used the pull-out strategy, no more business as usual, which has had more influence in a few years than all those years of working within the system with the establishment leaders.

I believe there are two major problems reflected in the Knights' controversy: love of money and human respect. When you run a huge company, like the Knights' insurance industry, you want to avoid controversy to protect the assets of the group. You especially don't want to make enemies of those who pass legislation that affects your business. Additionally, there is a "prestige factor" associated with having a Ted Kennedy and other "distinguished individuals" in your ranks. Human respect is a universal temptation to fallen man. We all want to be important in the eyes of others. As one who has spent a lifetime caring about what others think of me, I know the temptation firsthand. I laugh sometimes about the Lord calling me to fight in the pro-life movement. The first time a pro-abort screamed at me and made obscene gestures I cried. Being on the frontlines of the pro-abortion battle went a long way to curing my desire for human respect.

As for the opinions I've expressed about the Knights, I don't think they "spread venom." They seem to me to reflect common sense and a zeal for the faith and for the souls of those teetering on the brink. Politicians who support the murder of the innocent and scandalize in the process are pretty far from being "practical Catholics" according to the Knights' charter. And they are in serious danger of hellfire when you consider Jesus' words about "what you did for the least of my little ones." Is there anyone more least than the infant waiting to be born? Shouldn't we be warning them so they can repent?

Admonishing the sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. The Knights do the publicly pro-abortion in their midst no favor by refusing to address their scandal. After all, you can sin by omission as well as commission and to be silent when you ought to speak is morally wrong. In today's culture of death, I think we all have an obligation to blow the trumpet of warning. We all know that many bishops are not doing their duty. I don't think that absolves us from doing ours. If they won't speak, the laity must. Many souls can be saved if the laity have the courage to defend the truth in charity.


S. Petersen said...

It's not like you're asking for the Knights to be burned at the stake.
Think how much better our schools would be if each town or neighborhood ran its own schools instead of having the Fed and the teachers'unions foisting their agendas on us.
An overarching hierarchy is prone to introduce heresy. Most leaders want to remain leaders and be celebrated by those they lead so they do and say what they think will make them popular.
Local, independent (yet ready to cooperate and coordinate) Knights wouldn't be in this mess.
Only the Church itself has the promise that the Lord will use its leaders to preserve it.

Siobhan said...

Many years ago I worked for Catholic Charities because I wanted to help people in need. What an eye opener I received! My co-workers were kind and compassionate, but every one of these Social Workers supported contraception and were “pro-choice”. The psychiatrist on staff was an atheist! In my naiveté, I thought that someone who works for and receives a paycheck from the Catholic Church should be supporting the Church’s teachings – right? Is it unreasonable to expect that those who take on the name “Catholic” be faithful sons and daughters of the Church? Shouldn’t everyone within the Knights of Columbus be held to the same standard or am I expecting too much? Over the years I’ve encountered other people, lay and religious, who are openly dissenting from the Church and even wear it as a badge of honor. So much pray is needed to change hearts and minds especially WITHIN the Church before the Lord forces this house cleaning upon us.

anonymous said...

Why should anyone leave any organization due to a single incident?

You wrote, "...if a member did raise a fuss even in a private conversation with the pro-abortion member at a meeting"

At our State Convention this issue was directly addressed and the priest who spoke said emphatically that we were not to let abortionists go unchallenged, either in or out of our ranks. I cannot speak to what was said at every other State Convention. Our Council had a politician who asked about applying for membership. He was not given an application for membership because of his pro-abortion stand. However, we wouldn't be very "fraternal" if we threw brothers out because we didn't approve of everything they did.

You wrote, "..If an organization within that Church claims to follow the principles of the Church but does not,"

And when was the last time you saw an excommunication in the Church of a politician because of their voting record? We do follow the principals of the Church and excommunications are few and far between.

You wrote, "Isn't it possible that the best way to reform an organization (one that is not infallibly protected by the Holy Spirit) is to leave it with the proviso that you'll return when they clean up their act?"

I disagree. Leaving a group just multiplies the work necessary by the ones left behind. A far better tactic would be to join such an organisation because of the good it does and work to make it better. People all around me have been leaving the Church, the KofC, their hobby group and the Boy Scouts for years because of hypocrisy or whatever. Those groups still exist and they are still flawed, but they are diminished by the lack of members willing to help.