The Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus has a wide reputation for volunteering and charitable giving. I know it might come as a shock that a religious organization named after famed humanitarian Christopher Columbus isn’t entirely the force for good that it’s often believed to be, but brace yourself. This article by Think Progress’ Josh Israel on the topic reveals some pretty unpalatable behavior from the Knights.
It’s the typically archaic stuff you’d expect from a conservatively Catholic group with deep pockets — not surprising for an organization that Pope John Paul II referred to as the “strong right arm of the Church.” Still, it’s probably not what comes to mind when many think of the Knights of Columbus: like, for instance, spending millions to oppose LGBT equality, stem cell research, abortion access, etc.
In a November interview, the organizations’ top official noted that the Knights’ “first principle is charity,” and that its success has come due to its focus on “mission integrity.” But for several decades, that charity has also included work to overturn Roe v. Wade. Each year, the organization reaffirms, by resolution, its “deep and historic commitment to oppose any governmental action or policy that promotes abortion, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, euthanasia, assisted suicide, or other offenses against life.”
And what does that commitment look like?
Between local chapters and the national organization, the Knights’ “Ultrasound Initiative” have provided more than $14 million worth of ultrasound machines to local “pro-life pregnancy care centers”… They have also worked to defeat a successful stem-cell research amendment in Michigan ($100,000), to pass an unsuccessful proposal to ban public funding of abortion in Florida ($100,000), and to oppose a defeated Massachusetts initiative to allow physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients ($450,000).
The Knights of Columbus’ concerns run beyond limiting women’s healthcare and banning end-of-life options, though. They’re also concerned about the terrors of pornography in society:
With at least $250,000 in contributions since 2010, the Knights of Columbus are among the most generous donors to Morality in Media, likely the nation’s loudest voice against adult pornography, and its efforts to curb “the ravages of the pornography pandemic in America.”
And while the organization is only open to male members, they are less open about other same sex arrangements. Marriage equality, for example, is a big target for the Knights.
The Knights of Columbus also transferred more than $1 million in 2009 to the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. In all, a 2012 report by the Catholic LGBT equality advocacy coalition Equally Blessed, found the Knights of Columbus had spent more than $6.2 million against same-sex marriage between 2005 and 2012.
Israel provides a lot more detail and examples of the Knights of Columbus’ spending and views, and the conclusion is inescapable. As with many Catholic organizations, it seamlessly blends its positive outreach with its negative, the helping hand with the harming.
This is a problem we see all too often with religious charitable giving. The desire to do good in the world is hampered by a distorted idea of what good actually is — the byproduct of archaic moral codes, frozen in time because they were given the supposed sanction of God when they were created.