Knights of Columbus spending millions to stop marriage equality

Full report:

Download: The Strong Right Arm of the Bishops: The Knights of Columbus and Anti-Marriage Equality Funding (PDF)

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Press release:

Report by Equally Blessed examines politicization, questionable alliances of Knights

WASHINGTON, D. C., October 18–The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, has used its extensive financial resources to become one of the most aggressive opponents of marriage equality in the United States, according to a report released today by Equally Blessed. The group is a coalition of four Catholic groups that support equal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church and the wider society.

While local branches of the Knights continue the charitable activities for which the organization has long been known, the organization’s national leadership under Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, a former Reagan administration staff member, has become increasingly politicized, the report says.

“Carl Anderson is using the good name that the Knights have developed over generations as cover while pursuing policies and making alliances that many Catholics find deeply troubling when they learn about them,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a member of the Equally Blessed coalition.

According to the report, which is based primarily on the Knights’ filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the organization donated $6.25 million to anti-marriage equality efforts between 2005-2012, with most of the money directed toward ballot measures aimed at banning marriage equality in 12 states.

The sum includes:

  • $1.9 million in donations to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), $1.4 million of which was devoted to a successful and highly controversial campaign to overturn marriage equality legislation in Maine.
  • a $1.1 million dollar donation to which supported the passage of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that banned marriage equality in California.
  • more than $630,000 in donations to groups working against marriage equality through ballot initiatives that will be voted on next month in Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

According to NOM’s internal memos, unsealed during legal proceedings in Maine, the organization adopted a strategy of turning the Black and Hispanic communities against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people during the campaign to overturn marriage equality legislation in that state. The same memos advocated finding children who had been raised by same-sex couples and persuading them to speak out against their parents.

“The Knights portray themselves as representatives of a broad Catholic tradition, but they have become culture warriors,” said David Saavedra, co-president of the board of Call To Action, an Equally Blessed coalition member. “Most U. S. Catholics support marriage equality, and even those who have doubts are put off by these hardline tactics.”

The report, which was made possible by contributions from Equally Blessed organizations, the Human Rights Campaign and several individual donors, also examines the Knights’ support for legal and educational initiatives to thwart marriage equality.

The Knights has contributed $1.5 million to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has mounted legal challenges to marriage equality on the grounds that it infringes upon the religious liberties of those who oppose it, and more than $1.1 million to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage.

Since 2009, the Knights has assessed each of its 1.8 million members a $2 annual fee to support its Culture of Life initiative, which includes its campaign against marriage equality, the report notes. Many Catholics who support the Knights’ charitable initiatives in their parish or diocese are largely unaware of the organization’s involvement in “culture war” issues both inside and outside the church.

“So many of us have memories of our fathers and grandfathers putting on their Knights’ regalia to march in parades and participate in special Masses,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which is a member of the coalition. “We remember them raising scholarship money so Catholic kids could go to college. It is deeply disheartening to know that this same organization is requiring its members to contribute to campaigns aimed at making sure that some of those kids are treated as second-class citizens.”

According to the report, the Knights has accrued significant influence within the Roman Catholic Church thanks to large contributions to the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It uses that influence, the report states, to advance a conservative political and theological agenda, sometimes at the expense of other U. S. Catholics.

According to media reports, the Knights partially funded an investigation into the work of U. S. nuns by the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious. This investigation preceded the investigation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which has culminated in an attempt to delegitimize the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). The LCWR, many of whose members are strong advocates for economic justice, represents 80 percent of women religious in the United States. The Vatican criticized the group for seeming to challenge positions taken by bishops “who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the Knights’ chaplain, reportedly called for the investigation into the LCWR. The Knights contributed $265,000 to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, a smaller, more politically and theologically conservative group of nuns.

“It is a shame to see the Knights using their influence against women who have served the church so well for so long,” said Mary Ellen Lopata, co-founder of Fortunate Families, a coalition member.

Equally Blessed is a coalition of faithful Catholics who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both in the church and in civil society. Equally Blessed includes four organizations that have spent a combined 115 years working on behalf of LGBT people and their families:  Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

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