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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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I am Grateful for the Knights of Columbus

A year has passed since I read with deep dismay an article by my brother priest, Fr. Peter Daly.  It was entitled, “I’m done with the Knights of Columbus” and appeared in the National Catholic Reporter (dated June 3, 2020). 

The title accurately encapsulates what his 1,300 words would attempt to justify.  The stated cause for his defection is the contention that the Knights of Columbus injected themselves into a partisan campaign at a moment of national crisis over racial bigotry by inviting President Donald Trump to use the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., as a photo op for his political campaign.

He begins by spelling out his credentials to speak on this issue: a priest and Knight for thirty some years, fourth degree, a council chaplain and a faithful friar of his local assembly.  He elaborates about what he has done for the Knights, and the order certainly appreciates his sacrifices for our brothers; but absent is any acknowledgment of the faithful men and the many and overwhelming good deeds they performed to support him, his parish and the local community.

Since Fr. Daly gives his own credentials, I suppose I should say something about mine.  I was ordained May 17, 1986 – a month before Father Peter Daly returned from studies in Rome. Like Fr. Peter, I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, a Knight for most of my priesthood, fourth degree, a council chaplain, a faithful friar of the local assembly, past chaplain of the Bishop McNamara chapter, and past Maryland State Chaplain.  I grew up in Prince George’s County, MD and have served in three parishes located here for over 25 of my 35 years of ministry.  Since Fr. Daly implies a political and racial bias in the Knights, it should be confessed that there are so few Republicans in this county that the local elections are over with the Democratic primaries.  Today, Prince George’s County’s population is 79% minority and 14% white. I have personally witnessed its transformation with the civil rights fight of the 1960’s and the efforts at school integration in the 1970’s.  One of my sisters also still lives in the county.  Back in 2008, I personally started a new council here in Mitchellville that is composed of African-Americans, Asians and a few whites. No less than my brother priest, I take to heart the many concerns from our community about racial or ethnic justice and rights.

I am indebted to Fr. Daly for helping out my brother’s family in Calvert County, one composed of both black and white members.  We will always love him.  Having said this, Fr. Daly writes his column in an independent Catholic newspaper that embraces dissent and represents those critics that have defamed the Knights of Columbus as a “hate group” for its upholding traditional values about human sexuality, marriage, family and the unborn.  I regretfully suspect this defection has been long in coming and because of a number of issues.

The article suffers from an egregious tunnel vision that fails to focus upon the heart of Columbianism.  The Knights of Columbus is the most dynamic and active movement of Catholic men around.  If I had my way, every Catholic man would be a Knight and all our ladies would work with them in auxiliaries.  Even as Fr. Daly says, “I am done. I am quitting,” the Knights are using their resources and even risking their lives so as to LEAVE NO NEIGHBOR BEHIND during the coronavirus pandemic and now as everything begins to reopen. 

Like my brother priest, I am often disappointed by what goes on in our Church and society; but I could no more leave the Knights than I could disown my family.  Father McGivney’s brotherhood of men has become an essential organ in the body of the Church.  Indeed, there has been a push away from independent halls to parish-based councils. Despite the many storms that have sought to capsize the Barque of St. Peter, the Knights true to their patron Columbus, help man the sails and care for the rigging, as we sail to the promised shore.  I am confident that the order will never abandon the Church.  We as priests should be just as steadfast on their behalf— the spiritual sons of Father McGivney are among the most active men in the Church.  The Knights of Columbus is more than a club; the late St. Pope John Paul II spoke of the Knights of Columbus as “the strong right arm of the Church.”  I would argue that they are the good right arm to every devout and hard-working priest.  On this account, I would beseech our men to pray for Fr. Daly and for his future return to our brotherhood. 

His negative animus is so acute that he even condemns the construction of the Shrine to Pope John Paul II as a scandal and argues that it deprived struggling parishes and schools of 60 million dollars.  In truth the loan was for 54 million and the American bishops hoped that costs would be recouped by visitors.  This did not happen and the Knights came to the aid of the Church, bought it and remade the facility into a religious shrine.  Today it is a wonderful resource for prayer and education. Yes, we can argue the practicality of the initial purchase; the Archdiocese of Detroit suffered a loss of $34 million.  Was this a theft to the poor?  Would he tell us to sell this facility and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception down the street?  How about selling St. Peter’s in Rome and all the Church’s works of art and sacred manuscripts?  No, there must be a balance in what honors God, what we safeguard for the ages and what is needed for our various ministries and outreach.  Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8). The Shrine to St. John Paul II gives honor to a saintly pope; but more importantly, as a church it celebrates the abiding presence of Christ and his saving work. It should not surprise us that the immoderate newspaper for which he writes frequently took issue with this Pope. Had the Knights not bought the building and it had been torn down— there would have been nothing to show for the sacrifices made. The Shrine today celebrates the Pope who recognized their fidelity to the teachings of the Church, the nature of the family and the sacredness of human life. 

The priest’s rationale for leaving depends upon an interpretation of events and motives that deserve serious scrutiny. The bylaws of Columbianism forbid the involvement of our order in partisan politics.  However, the fourth degree of the Knights urges our men to be patriots. (A clarification should be made that patriots love their country and support her when she is right and correct her when she is wrong; by contrast nationalism is a sin that asserts “my country right or wrong.”)  We might agree or disagree with the policies of various elected officials but we are still obliged to show respect for persons and for the offices they hold. Unfortunately, there is a lack of civility that has infected our national discourse and our bonds in the faith.  No matter whether we personally like him or not, we as Knights would be obliged as patriots to respect our nation’s commander-in-chief no matter whom he might be— President Obama or President Trump or today President Biden.  Unfortunately, left and right, how many times have we heard the exclamation, “He’s not my president?”    

Certainly Fr. Daly has a right, as does Cardinal Wilton Gregory, to make a personal judgment call about President Trump’s visit to the Shrine of St. John Paul II. However, as a correction to his article, the event was planned prior to the riots.  The local Archbishop and others were invited to witness the signing of a document that would place U.S. foreign policy soundly on the side of promoting religious liberty, especially where believers are threatened as in the Middle East, Africa and Asia (China).  As background to this, the Knights of Columbus has adopted devastated churches in the Middle East so as to help in rebuilding and in the retention of the faith.  Many of these war-torn families had seen their fathers, brothers and sons beheaded for witnessing to Christ.  Given the photo of the President holding up a bible outside the burned St. John’s church a day earlier, excessive acts in dispersing the protestors and what proved to be inflammatory statements— the cause for the gathering was lost in the news and the Knights were stamped as bigots, even if in an indirect or unintended act of calumny.  As a result of the invited churchmen being absent, the document would later be signed at the White House.

The expressed cause for Fr. Daly’s defection seems to be predicated upon a grave fallacy.  Does he really believe the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus intends to enter a “partisan campaign” and/or to take “the side of racial bigotry” and/or to strip citizens of their “Constitutional and human rights”?  Maybe his emotions are running wild as this is an absolutely ludicrous claim. 

Cardinal Wilton Gregory’s statement was indeed stinging:  “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”

While it has his name attached, it sounds like a statement composed by committee. There is a failure to separate divergent events: the visitation of the shrine and the efforts by authorities to take back the streets.  Regardless, I would concur with Fr. Daly that those who disagree with any or all of it should reflect upon the message and not seek to kill the messenger.  The Cardinal (then Archbishop) rightly has a claim to the support of his priests and the flocks they shepherd.  Notice that while Fr. Daly can mention what some regard as fringe right-wing religious groups; the Knights of Columbus has chosen the route of respect, yes, even when possibly maligned.  Indeed, during the unrest, Supreme introduced the Novena for National Unity & an End to Racism for Trinity Sunday.

One could certainly question the timing of the event.  Further, as one of his priests, I would be among the first to argue that the Cardinal as the lead shepherd of his flock in DC and five Maryland counties has every right to make judgment calls and to correct his children in faith.  Unfortunately, others like Fr. Daly have made a false assessment to fan the flames of unrest against an organization that is part of the answer, not the problem. 

I want to conclude with a very pointed and personal appeal:

“Father Peter, you can forsake us if you want— we cannot stop you.  But few of our men will follow you.  As Knights, we will keep you in prayer and continue to live out our discipleship.  We are proud of our past, contrite about our failures and filled with hope about our future.  You could have walked with us as we continue to pursue service in FAITH, FAMILY, COMMUNITY and LIFE.  Nevertheless, our bishops as a national body still support us and most priests are happy to give us their religious leadership.  As a faithful friar, you could have done much to encourage programs promoting racial justice as an essential element of our patriotism.  Instead, you walk out the door and in asking others to follow you, deliberately seek to undermine our brotherhood at a time when we are most needed.  You make much of what the Supreme executive officers make as salaries, and yet, most our men work for nothing but the glory of God and the love of neighbor.  As the Maryland State chaplain to the Knights from 2018 to 2020, as a former chapter chaplain, as a faithful friar and as a council chaplain, I can say with a clear conscience and a grateful heart that the Knights are the reason why I can sleep at night.  When many so-called Catholic organizations repudiate our faith and values— when a majority of our people (coronavirus or no coronavirus) have abandoned the practice of their faith— when much of our society mocks the Church and maligns the priesthood— when even elected Catholic officials celebrate the legalization of aborting children nine months in the womb— when the sacred institution of marriage, family and human sexuality is distorted— the Knights of Columbus remains the one most significant organization that has stayed true to what we believe— always in solidarity with faithful priests and bishops.”   

“I am a Catholic and a Knight and I will live and die a Catholic and a Knight.  I cannot speak for others, but for me to break from the order would be like a shepherd saying, ‘I’m done with it, you won’t listen, I hope the wolves eat you!’”

“I appreciate your candor and take you for your word that this defection is a matter of conscience.  However, such should also reflect right judgment and the truth.  It is upon this that I would take exception.  Further, I think you are seriously wrong in urging others to abandon the order.”

I will keep you in prayer.