comments powered by Disqus
November 26, 2012Kieran Raval
The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal order, is under attack by Catholics United, a “non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition”. Catholics United, upset that the Knights of Columbus has donated money to promote and protect the institution of marriage, delivered a petition to the order’s headquarters in New Haven, CT last week.
Catholics United accuses the Knights of engaging in right-wing politicking and becoming a front for the GOP. Furthermore, the group tries to causally link the Knights’ support of marriage with the new statistic that 1 in 5 Americans does not identify with a particular religion (U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Pew Charitable Trust, 2012). Catholics United is led by James Salt, formerly employed by the DNC and one Kathleen Sebelius.
One wonders if Catholics United is really as “non-partisan” as it claims. One also wonders what exactly Catholics United is united for. When an organization decries support for the natural, biblical, and traditional definition of marriage as a “far right political agenda,” one hesitates to think of what the same organization would say about the Church, which teaches that “The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children” (Catechism of the Catholic Church §1660). Perhaps Catholics United is more united against the teachings of the Church on issues like marriage. After all, such teachings are merely “far right-wing social issues.”
Catholics United certainly is not united for charity, as the Knights of Columbus is. In the last ten years, the Knights of Columbus has donated over $1.4 billion to charity and over 660 million man-hours to charitable works. It is unclear how much Catholics United has donated to charity, though considering that the organization is about politics and not charity, we shouldn’t hold our breath. Yet, Catholics United, a political organization, has the audacity to call out a charitable organization for being too political and not charitable enough!
Beyond this obvious absurdity, there are more issues at stake here, which have far reaching implications. The Knights of Columbus embraces the entirety of the Church’s social teaching. Try as Catholics United might, this teaching cannot be parsed out and divided for political purposes. The Knights of Columbus engages in a tremendous amount of charitable giving and social justice work. At the same time, the order promotes and defends the Church’s teachings on life, religious liberty, and marriage in the public square. The Knights of Columbus epitomizes the kind of integrated vision of Catholic Social Teaching that so many political organizations, that claim to be dedicated to that same teaching, fail to embrace and express. One cannot pick and chose parts of Catholic Social Teaching at will, accepting some teachings and rejecting others, as if these truths, revealed and taught with authority, were mere accoutrements in one’s political opinions. Catholic Social Teaching cannot be arbitrarily divided and chosen from because the truth cannot be arbitrarily divided and chosen from. It is one. Any attempt to accept part of Catholic Social Teaching and disassociate from other parts is a sure sign of a political agenda at work, and ultimately leaves one with none of Catholic Social Teaching.
One of the requirements of charity is to speak the truth-the whole truth- in love (cf. Eph 4:15). Thus, the Knights of Columbus is speaking out in support of marriage, precisely because it is a charitable organization. The Knights of Columbus recognizes the Christian duty to oppose moral evil in the public square. It also recognizes that promoting a healthy marriage culture and flourishing family life will promote society’s flourishing. The order’s support of marriage, therefore, is a natural extension of its support for the poor and most vulnerable.
Perhaps the most dangerous undercurrent at work in this move by Catholics United is the subtle attempt to silence the Church and push her from engaging in the public square, particularly on the issue of marriage. The marriage issue is the turning point here because it is where groups like Catholics United can get the most popular traction. Notice that the group did not attack the Knights for engaging in the fight for religious liberty or for working against abortion. Yet, the issue of marriage, because it is so emotional by nature, is good soil for groups like Catholics United to sow the seeds of dissent and confusion.
All of these issues have a certain political (that is not to say partisan) element by nature. They are issues that affect the commonweal. Society is made up of people who are political animals. The Church and organizations like the Knights that support her have every right, and indeed the duty, to engage in the public sphere, and even in the political process, to promote those truths knowable by reason and revelation, which will be for the ultimate good of human society and community. That is what is meant by “social” teaching.
The Institute on Religion & Democracy
1023 15th Street NW, Suite 601, Washington, DC 20005-2601
P: (202) 682-4131 F: (202) 682-4136