New Report Shows Just How Deep Knights of Columbus’ Anti-LGBT Efforts Are

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.

Knights of Columbus members during a liturgy

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




Church Workers Deserve Truth About Knights of Columbus Investments

By now, the Knights of Columbus’ anti-LGBT activities are well-documented, but still many Catholics continue to invest in the Knights’ insurance and investment plans. Nicole Sotelo of the National Catholic Reporter took a closer look at the Knights’ operation, specifically about the organization’s expanding relationship with church workers.

knights-of-columbus-300x206Sotelo, who has worked in the banking industry, noted that last year, the Knights launched a new subsidiary investment firm for Catholic institutions. Clients include religious orders and dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Chicago, who offer their employees access to the Knights’ funds totaling some $83 million.

The problem is that profits from these business ventures help fund the Knights’ political efforts, along with dues from members and traditional fundraising activiites.

On LGBT issues, Sotelo said the Knights have “played a significant political role in the movement against LGBT justice.” She continued:

“For example, the organization funded anti-LGBT speakers for bishops through the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Additionally, Knights officials have repeatedly backed anti-LGBT political causes to the tune of $6.25 million, from 2005-2012 alone. The majority of Catholics support LGBT justice and many church workers are themselves gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Church workers need to know that if they invest in these mutual funds, a portion of their money could be used against the LGBT community.”

Sotelo also reported on the Knights’ activities funding right-wing activists like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has opposed contraceptive health coverage for church workers.

The takeaway for Sotelo is that church workers and others “may assume that by investing in Knights of Columbus mutual funds that the stocks are in line with Catholic values. That is not always the case.” She commented:

“No company is perfect and, by extension, no stock is perfect. That is why the U.S. bishops’ conference issued investment guidelines that encourage shareholder advocacy. This means that Catholic organizations holding stock should use the voting power that comes with it to encourage companies toward better business practices. . .However, no shareholder advocacy is listed on the Knights’ Asset Advisors website and the communications department did not respond to questions about it by the deadline.”

Sotelo concluded that while “there is much to admire about the Knights of Columbus,” their explicit claims to be a Catholic organization supporting the interest of church workers are not being lived out.

The Knights have been at the center of many LGBT-related controversies in recent years. Sotelo’s previous reporting in 2014 showed the Knights had funded anti-gay workshops hosted by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which has ties to reparative therapy advocates. The Knights were also quite active funding anti-marriage equality initiatives in 2012, something which Catholics petitioned them to stop.

But there have also been bright spots. In January 2015, a local council in Indiana reversed its decision denying a same-gender couple use of their hall for a wedding. And some Knights have either resigned from the organization in protest of the anti-LGBT work or publicly opposed the group, including a former vice president of their insurance division.

It is a loss to the church that Catholics cannot access financial services actually consistent with their values. The Knights of Columbus should stop funding right-wing anti-LGBT and anti-woman initiatives, and instead promote ethical investment of the profits which are used to fund charitable works.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 16, 2016

Knights of Columbus Council Will Allow Lesbian Couple’s Wedding Reception

Taylor Butcher and Alexandra Marie Shields

Knights of Columbus Council 934 reversed its decision to deny a same-gender couple use of their hall for a wedding, after public outcry against the Knights’ discrimination grew rapidly.

Alexandra Marie Shields and Taylor Butcher reserved the Madison, Indiana, hall last autumn for their wedding reception, after Indiana legalized same-sex marriage in October.

On this past Monday, Council 934 informed the couple that their reservation would be cancelled because the Knights do not recognize same-gender marriage. On Facebook, Butcher described what happened, writing, in part:

” ‘I fought back tears and told him that the Pope disagreed with him and that he was losing business. [The Knight] stood firmly by his discrimination. We only want to do the reception there. Literally just a party. We are being blatantly discriminated against. We may not step foot into the establishment because we are gay. That is hatred and this has to stop.’ “

However, that decision was reversed on Wednesday, and the Council posted the following statement on Facebook:

“Council 934 regrets that there was some confusion over the hall rental request and that no contract was ever signed. We are happy to accommodate Taylor’s request to hold her reception there and we will waive the usual hall rental fee, given the misunderstanding that occurred.”

According to ThinkProgress, Butcher was concerned because wedding plans were finalized and a change of venue would have been highly disruptive for guests. ThinkProgress notes further:

“As of press time, Butcher said no one from the council had directly contacted them to share this news and it is unclear whether this is a one-time exception or indicative of genuine a policy change…Neither the local council nor its Grand Knight responded immediately to a ThinkProgress inquiry about its policies.”

It appears that Council 934 changed its decision due to public pressure, which included journalistic exposure, critical social media postings, and phone calls to the organization. There was also disagreement among the local Knights. The Council admitted, “A portion of the council disagrees with the decision that was made.” Butcher told ThinkProgress of this support:

” ‘We’ve gotten a lot more support on this than we thought we were going to be getting. We weren’t expecting people to go to their Facebook page and rate them with 1 star…because everyone we know is making a big deal out of it, that’s what’s helping and making them feel the pressure.’ “

While Butcher and Shields’ wedding reception will proceed this upcoming spring, it is unclear whether this Indiana Knights of Columbus council will change its policy about same-sex weddings. Butcher is hopeful they will:

“I hope they are willing to change their policy for us and all of the future couples wishing to use this venue. Even if we just change the policy of one organization. That’s something. And Ale[xandra] and I will have made a difference on this issue. How cool.”

However, 2015 may hold serious problems in Indiana as the state legislature is considering a bill that would legally protect LGBT discrimination when it is based on a person’s religious beliefs against homosexuality. Still, it is a positive sign that this local Knights Council made a Gospel-based decision to welcome all at their facilities.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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Knights of Columbus Funding Anti-Gay Workshops for Bishops

Nicole Sotelo

For decades, the Knights of Columbus have supported a host of charitable causes, funding everything from social services to the Church’s educational mission. Yet, Nicole Sotelo, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, writes about a new, darker side of these charitable donations, as the Knights redefine charity to include anti-LGBT political efforts.

Sotelo reports that $1.4 million listed under ‘charitable contributions’ was really spent sending bishops to medical ethics workshops sponsored by the conservative National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC). These workshops have happened regularly since the 1980s, and have recently added an anti-LGBT emphasis which Sotelo details further:

“For example, last year’s workshop featured the conservative psychologist and activist Thomas Finn, who presented on ‘Same-Sex Parenting Studies.’ He is known for disputing mainstream research, telling lawmakers, and now bishops, that children who grow up with same-gender parents are ‘vulnerable to risks such as increased presence of sexually transmitted disease, violence, substance abuse, mental health problems, etcetera.’

“At the 2011 workshop, bishops heard from Brian Brown, president of National Organization for Marriage, an anti-LGBT political organization that works against marriage equality. He spoke to the bishops not about medical ethics, but about ‘Same Sex “Marriage” ‘ (the quotes around ‘marriage’ are his).

“The same year, bishops heard a presentation on ‘Same-Sex Attraction and Gender Identity’ by Richard Fitzgibbons, who runs a conservative counseling center. Fitzgibbons has written extensively on his belief that people who identify as gay or transgender can be cured through counseling, something that the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have both rejected.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center also publishes resources and articles which target LGBT legislation and spread false information about LGBT people. Sotelo is clear that the consequences from misinformed bishops are far wider than a few ignorant prelates:

“While mainstream scientists would disagree with the journal, bishops who believe the NCBC information may go on to make harmful diocesan policies and advocate in legislatures against those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Harmful actions by the bishops have included advocating against fair housing, resisting equal employment opportunities, and preventing standard health care treatment.

“The fact that these “workshops for bishops” and supplementary resources are actually thinly veiled conservative political coachings shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Knights of Columbus vice president for public policy sits on the board of the NCBC, which runs the workshops and resource distribution. Additionally, a large majority of the NCBC’s board of directors reads like a who’s who directory of bishops known for their political work against LGBT equality…

“While the ‘workshops for bishops’ originally focused on the U.S. hierarchy, now the gathering includes bishops from countries such as Canada, Mexico and the Philippines, places where the Knights have membership. Today, the gathering is considered one of the largest regular gatherings of bishops outside of their episcopal conferences.”

Previously, the Knights of Columbus were called out for financing and directing Catholic efforts against marriage equality during the 2012 election cycle. A report by the Equally Blessed coalition found that the Knights spent at least $6.5 million between 2005 and 2012 opposing LGBT legal equality. This effort by the Knights was voted on of the worst Catholic LGBT stories for 2012 by Bondings 2.0 readers.

Sotelo has previously highlighted that ‘family life’ funding exceeded ‘community project’ funding, and used questionable categories in their accounting for what constitutes charity. These latest revelations have Sotelo concluding:

“I am grateful the Knights are interested in educating bishops about medical ethics, but these classes appear less about education and more about politics. Plus, the fact that the Knights’ leadership is using its charitable contributions for politically oriented workshops instead of charity, as their supporters are led to believe, seems anything but ethical.

“The Knights of Columbus leadership themselves could benefit from an ethics workshop, one that focuses on the difference between politics and charity.”

Many Knights of Columbus should be commended for their service to the Church and to the world, but the financing of misinformation about LGBT people and supporting political efforts against their equality is a most damaging indictment of the national organization. As others have written previously, this political work damages the respected tradition of the Knights who cared for those in poverty and on the margins.

There are Knights who are part of the LGBT commmunity themselves, either by being a sexual minority or having family members and close friends of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Instead of funding efforts against people, the Knights should be more transparent and fund efforts which support economically poor people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

New Jersey Initiates Marriage Equality, But Battle for Permanence Begins

New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage leaders at a press conference

Anti-marriage equality organizations have formed the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage as LGBT advocates seek to legalize equal marriage rights. Once again, Catholics are on center stage as the debate over marriage equality intensifies in that state from both judicial and legislative angles.

The Coalition includes a handful of conservative organizations, as well as the Knights of Columbus State Council, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, and the National Organization for Marriage which has close Catholic ties. On Top Magazine reports Coalition members are already unleashing anti-gay remarks, with a Knights leader comparing marriage equality to polygamy and incest, as others have done in the past. As for alternatives, the Coalition echoes Governor Chris Christie in calling for a state referendum on the issue.

The anti-marriage equality effort is in response to a  judge’s September 27th court order that New Jersey issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples beginning October 21. Judge Mary Jacobson claimed same-gender couples would be denied equal protection under the law if the state continued with merely civil unions, as they would be unable to receive federal benefits in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decisions in June.

Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic, has appealed the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court. With 2016 presidential aspirations, Christie has attempted to welcome LGBT rights in a broader sense and continue opposing marriage that would appeal to both moderates and Republicans respectively.

Judge Jacobson’s court order comes as the legislative side heats up as well. reports on reactions from pro-equality leaders who continue working on passing a marriage law, even as legal battles remain:

“Advocacy groups and Democratic state officials reacted quickly, cheering Jacobson’s decision and urging Christie to let it stand unchallenged. And vowing to fight it if Christie did appeal…

“We have been saying it for months and it stands true today: through litigation or legislation, we will win the dignity of marriage this year,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality. “We just won the first round through litigation and we will continue to fight until we guarantee marriage for all New Jersey couples.”

“Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said a coalition of groups pushing for gay marriage would also keep pressing state lawmakers for an override of Christie’s gay-marriage veto last year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature is nearly a dozen votes shy of being able to overturn the veto.”

Nearly 40% of New Jersey’s population identifies as Catholic, meaning the voice of Catholics will matter in speaking out to legislators and voting in a referendum, if one emerges. New Jersey also offers a prime moment for the Catholic hierarchy, Knights of Columbus, and those anti-equality lay people to heed Pope Francis’ new words and stop obsessing over marriage when true injustices abound.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

The Worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

thumbs downAs the year 2012 winds to a close, it’s time to review the news of the Catholic LGBT world of the past 12 months. In today’s post, we will look at the  stories of the worst happenings of the past year, and in tomorrow’s post, we will look at the best stories.  Bondings 2.0 asked you for your feedback on what the worst and best news stories of the past year were, so the ranking of these stories is based on your responses.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five. Thank you to all 311 of you who participated.

The Top Ten

1. The Parliament in Uganda, a pre-dominantly Catholic nation, re-introduces a bill to make the death penalty a possible sentence for lesbian and gay people.  16.34%

2. The Vatican censures the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for, among other things, their support of LGBT issues and New Ways Ministry. 15.69%

3. Pope Benedict opens the year by stating that new models of family are a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity.” 14.05%

4. The Knights of Columbus have contributed $6.5 million to oppose marriage equality over the past seven years, according to an Equally Blessed report. 12.09%

5. A Catholic lesbian woman in Maryland is denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. 10.13% 

6. The Vatican censures Sister Margaret Farley, a theologian who has supported the moral goodness of gay and lesbian relationships. 6.86%  

7. U.S. bishops attempt to make religious liberty an issue as a way to defeat marriage equality initiatives. 6.54%

8. Minnesota teen is denied confirmation for supporting marriage equality. 4.9%

9 & 10. TIE:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Catholic University of America again denies a request for recognition of a gay-straight alliance on campus. 2.29%                               Several Catholic church employees are fired because of their support of marriage equality. 2.29%

Other items:

In several cases, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development withdraws funding from organizations which support LGBT equality. 1.96% 

Catholic theologian Tina Beattie is disinvited from a fellowship appointment at the University of San Diego because of her support of marriage equality. 1.63%  

The U.S. Catholic bishops investigate the Girl Scouts of America for connections to liberal causes, including LGBT equality. 1.63%  

Minnesota’s Archbishop John Nienstedt instructs his priests not to speak publicly in support of marriage equality. 1.63%

A Catholic high school in Indianapolis refuses to call a female-to-male transgender student by his male name. 0.98%

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Mom Takes on U.S. Bishops

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has launched an on-line advocacy campaign directed to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, asking church leaders to back away from their expensive campaign against marriage equality.

James Servino (center) poses with siblings and his mother, Barbara Servino (second from right).
James Servino (center) poses with siblings and his mother, Barbara Servino (second from right).

James Servino of HRC launched the campaign, which features a letter to Cardinal Dolan written by his mother, Barbara Servino.  He explains the campaign’s origin:

“My mother is amazing. She’s had my back from the second I came out to her – and long before that.

“When she heard that the leaders of our Roman Catholic Church had spent $2 million on anti-gay marriage ballot campaigns in this election, she wrote a letter to the top Catholic bishop in the U.S., sticking up for people like me. I think it’s a message he desperately needs to hear.”

You can join the campaign by adding your signature to Mrs. Servino’s letter, which reads:

To: His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York

Your Eminence,

I’ve been going to Catholic mass almost every week since I was a little girl. My aunts and uncles are nuns and priests. My husband was a member of the Knights of Columbus. We raised our kids in our parish community and sent them to Catholic schools. Catholicism is more than just a belief for me — it’s a deep seed of my identity.

And it has always taught me that God made us all, and loves us all the same. The same way I try to love all my kids. That’s why, when my incredible son told me he was gay, it didn’t change my love for him one bit.

He’s always my child.

That’s why I was outraged to learn that the leadership of our Church just spent $2 million on anti-gay marriage ballot campaigns. Think of all the positive things that $2 million could have accomplished. Think of the hungry fed, the sick comforted, the homeless sheltered. Instead you chose to use parishioners’ donations like mine to divide and discriminate.

Catholicism teaches us to love one another — not to attack our sons and daughters for simply wanting to make lifelong commitments and start families. You won’t have to ever marry a same-sex couple, but it makes no sense to deny them the right to be married under the law. And your parishioners aren’t going to stand for it much longer.

I think it’s time we all got on the right side of history. I hope you do, too.

Barbara Servino

The deadline for the letter is this week, so sign it soon!

Another recent HRC blog post, from Anne Underwood, founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality, makes the case for why Catholics are supporting this cause.  Entitled “Pro-Equality and Roman Catholic Is Not an Oxymoron,” the essay explains why marriage equality is a Catholic issue:

I am pro-equality because I am a Catholic committed to freedom and fairness for all God’s people. The majority of U.S. Catholics — anywhere from 53% – 73%, according to 2012 polls — are like me.

Most people recognize that marriage equality could not have prevailed in ME, MD, MN and WA this fall if a majority of Catholics hadn’t voted for justice over their hierarchy’s preference for dogma. Over $2 million for dogma notwithstanding, Catholic faithful were not persuaded that their consciences were “improperly formed.” . . .

Vatican II confirmed Jesus’ teaching — it is the people of God, not their rulers, who represent the Kindom of God. We Catholics in the pews, the voting booths, at our lesbian and gay family and friends’ weddings – we are the Church. We are speaking proudly and increasingly loudly as Church.”

Though we’ve had our recent four-state success, there are still many more states to go before equality is the law of the land, and Catholics will play a decisive role in many of those struggles.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry