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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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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.


10 Responses

  1. Hi Father Joe. I’m with Fr. Daly on this issue. The Knights are involved in too many scandals. The past Supreme Knight hired a lobbying firm that employed his son at an inflated cost. Their executive compensation and bonuses are exorbitant. And they have their own child sex scandal to reckon with much like their Church.

    FATHER JOE: All organizations make missteps and are composed of sinners. As a whole the KOC is better than most and is the most faithful of Catholic organizations.

  2. Father Daly’s choice to leave the night was his choice. I have deep respect for you Fathers coz I know the sacrifices you have. Thank you for the service.

    FATHER JOE: Yes, it was choice, but he did not need to malign the Knights and impugn their good works in his article.

  3. Attacks the Order as Racist

    The Knights of Columbus should not have to blow its own horn. Our order and many of our Knights had leading roles in supporting civil rights for all and integration. Fr. Daly goes out of way to target the history of the Knights of Columbus. While it is true that individual councils in certain parts of the country struggled with racism and prejudice; this struggle was also the experience of our whole nation and Church. It is stated on the Supreme webpage: “Since the founding of the Knights in 1882 by the Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, the Catholic fraternal order has been open to all races and nationalities.”

    We further read on the Supreme website: “The Knights of Columbus ran the only integrated facilities for troops during World War I.” It was noted as “the only social welfare organization operating in the war ‘that never drew the color line.’” The Knights “commissioned a Black history by W.E.B. Dubois in the 1920s while also openly opposing the racial and religious intolerance of the Ku Klux Klan.”

  4. Attacks the Supreme Deputy

    Fr. Daly directly attacks the Supreme Knight because as a young man he was a “legislative assistant” to Jesse Helms of North Carolina. This is simply condemnation by association. Would we condemn himself and all the priests of his Archdiocese for working on the behalf of a now defrocked pederast Cardinal McCarrick? Throughout his many years of service, Helms took many positions on civil rights and race that one might deplore and rightly debate, but he also sought to preserve the traditional family and the right to life of the unborn child. Given the importance of these themes for Knights, I suspect that this is where Carl Anderson was most active when in his employ. Later, when he could truly be his own man, he served well in the 1990’s on the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights. Indeed, he did so well that he became a consultant to the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee against Racism. Would Fr. Daly stamp the U.S. bishops as a racist conference? While not denying the sins and prejudices of certain councils and members in the past, especially in the South (which includes Maryland), the Knights during his long term have sought to advance the cause of racial justice for our churches and our society.

  5. Attacks the Mutual Aid Society

    My priest brother faults the Knights of Columbus as no longer a mutual aid society but as a fat insurance corporation with highly paid executives. While the top salaries are lucrative, they are purportedly much lower than that given to top executives from comparable businesses. The essential truth is the Knights have a secure insurance program that safeguards the families of our men. It is also this “big money” that makes possible the intervention of the Knights to support the Holy Father and charity intervention around the world.

  6. I suppose we should be glad that Fr. Daly has finally found something with which he could agree with his archbishop given how often he harangues about episcopal clericalism and their direction of the Church. However, while he might stand with Archbishop Wilton Gregory in judging against President Trump’s visit to the Shrine of St. John Paul II; I suspect the angry priest parts from him and most if not all bishops in the United States in urging men to join him in resigning from the Knights of Columbus.

    As an aside, he should be careful lest he be charged guilty of a megalomania that is increasing common in priests who come across as wannabee bishops with large followings online or on television. Often eclipsing the public influence of bishops, they have a level of clout far beyond their standing and can cause great confusion and harm to the body of the Church.

    As a youth I was challenged to never question or to say anything bad about a priest or his motives; but, this is a new age where priests often say stupid things and do even worse. As an active Knight of Columbus, do I believe for even one moment that President Trump’s visit to the Shrine to St. John Paul II and the single issue of racism precipitated Fr. Daly’s defection from the Knights of Columbus? I am somewhat incredulous given that I have worried over the years that he might leave the Church or get bounced for apparent dissent on a myriad of issues (look at the NCR): our stance against artificial contraception, the loss of sacraments and good standing for those in irregular (adulterous) unions, the Church’s opposition to sanctioned same-sex unions, etc. He stated in an interview published in THE COUGAR (Aug. 16, 2017): “In the United States, younger clergy are very conservative and they’re very focused on these cultural wars— which means, in concrete terms, abortion, contraception and homosexuality. Those are sort of the big three issues. Frankly, I’m much more concerned about poverty, immigration, social loneliness of a lot of people. Social issues like the lack of health care and the lack of security a lot of people have. I don’t hear much concern from younger clergy about that stuff.” What he is concerned about is good, but the problem (as I see it) is where he places the emphasis. It seems that younger priests perceive what he cannot, that the context of preaching and moral teaching is one where the Gospel of Life is inherently in opposition to a Culture of Death.

    I will make no attempt to parse the Archbishop’s statement. The danger with this sort of issue is that no matter which side one takes, there is still the appearance of being drawn into partisan politics. Membership in the Knights of Columbus does not necessarily drag one into the current campaign except upon the matter of issues. Fr. Daly in truth has practiced little moderation about political association as he wrote an article back in 2017 that explicitly argued that the Gospel of Christ was incompatible with the policies of the President. While I would urge a much more compassionate path about immigration than the current administration, any apologist might be stamped by critics as partisan who would argue that the former President is more in sync with Catholicism when it comes to the sanctity of life for the unborn and now with religious liberty. Indeed, if such were a litmus test for the Catholic faith, then President Biden might be judged as either non-Catholic or even an anti-Catholic in the pews. The language today is so charged with emotion that it is hard to have rational discussions these days.

  7. I was surprised that while President Trump was condemned for holding up a bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, there was conciliatory language about the vandals that set it afire.

    Yes, it was unfortunate that peaceful protestors were aggressively made to disperse. But would many of the critics have still wanted the President at the Shrine? I am neither sufficiently informed nor savvy about whether the photos should have been taken over the objections of the Episcopal churchwoman or of the Archbishop. Was the Shrine even aware of objections?

    Fr. Daly attacks the Knights for the foibles of the President. It is true that there was no meeting of dignitaries, no speech and signing of a document. However, the dignitaries invited, opted not to come. That is why the statement and the signing of the document had to be witnessed at the White House.

  8. It was stated in error that the archbishop had no prior knowledge of the scheduled event with President Trump at the Shrine. It has been verified that Archbishop Gregory received an invitation to the event with the President a week prior. He declined due to other commitments and correspondence from the archbishop’s office dated May 30 stated that he had to reluctantly decline “the kind invitation to attend the event celebrating International Religious Freedom on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at the Saint John Paul II Shrine.”

    No one could have foreseen the protests that would complicate the visit. Indeed, certain misconstrued factors might have compelled the Archbishop to use the strong words he selected in dismay at what the visit would signify. I can sympathize with the Archbishop’s concern that immediate events would complicate matters and likely send the wrong message. It was a judgment call.

    It is my understanding that the Knights did not invite the President to the Shrine of St. John Paul II for a political campaign photo op. The Shrine was chosen months prior as the location where the President would sign an executive order on Advancing International Religious Freedom. The first paragraph states: “Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative. Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States, and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom. As stated in the 2017 National Security Strategy, our Founders understood religious freedom not as a creation of the state, but as a gift of God to every person and a right that is fundamental for the flourishing of our society.” No one could have predicted the national crisis over racism that would later spill into the streets.

  9. President Trump and his wife are shown at one point as kneeling. Do we know for a fact that they could not be praying, especially since his wife was raised as a Catholic and still regularly says the rosary? Given the negative reaction, is it not rather that many cannot imagine such a man as President Trump “praying” or that God would even listen to his prayers? I certainly have issues of my own with politicians using ministers and religious sites for props and as places for sound bites. However, some have argued that the silence of churchmen when such things happen with figures like Congresswoman Pelosi, or Senator Clinton, or President Obama and now Biden is in itself an introduction of a partisan bias. I have trouble making sense of it.

    We judged the President from the very beginning and this judgment was self-fulfilling. If he was a monster, his creation was bolstered by two out-of-touch parties bought and paid for by their lobbyists and special interest groups. The politicians in blue vilified him even prior to his taking office for he had stolen the election from their appointed goddess, the ambitious Hera succeeding the rule of her philandering Zeus. The average working men and women who supported him, including the most African-American men for any Republican candidate in modern history, were cast aside along with their fears and needs. Those who hated him also hated them and even today there is the dark desire to punish the so-called deplorables.

    We cared less for the nation than for the destruction of a man who could not keep silent. Yes, he had a huge ego and if he could he would not only place his name on buildings, but also stamp it upon flesh. He demanded absolute loyalty and anything less was unacceptable— no less than betrayal or even treason. He was mocked when there should have been recourse to respect and dialogue. Various churchmen embraced him for his stance against abortion and yet behind doors did they make an effort to soften his hardened heart? Others condemned him as uncaring and as lacking compassion; but they would have done well to look in the mirror. Did we miss an opportunity? Here was a man who had embraced the world and the flesh; why did so few step forward to help wrestle him away from the devil? Could it be that evil also owned his opponents? An opportunity for a great presidency and possibly the making of a saint was forfeit. Of course, what he shall yet become we cannot say?

    FATHER JOE: I have wondered if President Trump played the part of Captain Queeg in a political retelling of The Caine Mutiny.

  10. Amen and Vivat Jesus, Fr. Jenkins. I came into the Knights through the Fletcher Council based at St. Joseph’s In Largo: 90 if not 95% African-American and minorities. Our Brother, Fr. Daly has been kind to me and members of my family as well. He is wrong about the Knights and voices his opinion in the wrong publication.

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