Thursday, May 27, 2010

The New Knights of Columbus Policy Controversy

Having read the letter and several critiques, I found myself unsatisfied with both sides. The Knight (it seems to me) are emphasizing the wrong aspects of their reasoning, creating ‘straw man’ arguments as one critic says, while the critics are attacking wholesale the Knights lack of courage in the matter by defaulting to the Clergy to make such decisions. Both of these critiques miss the mark.

A proper understanding needs to be based on the essence of the actual policy, which is as follows:

A subordinate council may not impose fraternal discipline with respect to a public figure's official actions on matters pertaining to faith and morals. Rather, any such discipline must be made by or at the direction of the Supreme Board of Directors, which will consider the prudence of addressing the conduct of the public figure in light of the overall good of the Order.

The essence of the policy, as I see it, is the hierarchy of authority within the organization itself. In other words, the K of C leadership does not want some local council making some bone head decision, going on a ‘witch hunt’ and removing any member who can be remotely associated with pro-choice or gay rights movements. This is because, as the Knights rightly say, each local council is a representation of the Order and in making such decisions, a local council will affect the entire Order. The scope of such decisions being understood, it is not a mystery as to why the K or C leadership wants to make such decisions for the Order as a whole.

It is apparent, however, that the position the K of C leadership holds in relation to dismissing or suspending members of the Order is one that is connected to the Clergy in a very concrete way. For it is stated that:

The Order must be sensitive to the role of the bishops, with whom we stand in solidarity. If the public figure's bishop has not excommunicated him for his public positions on issues relating to matters of faith and morals, it would be highly inappropriate for the Knights of Columbus to do so.

This being the case, it is my understanding that this position is just that a position, not an actually policy for the K of C. I say this because of the wording and the placement within the documents itself. It is stated more as a suggestive statement within the section of the letter outlining the reasoning for their new policy. It is certainly the case that the Knights of Columbus think it right and proper to dismiss members who are excommunicated from the Church. It does not seem from these statements, however, that a K of C member who has not been excommunicated from the Church cannot be dismissed or suspended from the Order. Rather, that such action would be highly inappropriate for the Knights if done by a local council without proper consultation of the K of C leadership and the local Clergy. Such a policy appears to me to be extremely prudential and wise, hoping to avoid scandal and improper use of the Orders authority.

Let me iterate here that I might be tweaking the proper understanding of the new policy, for there is much interpretation to be had here, since the policy is pretty vague (much like Cannon Law, which requires much commentary for understanding). Yet, if this understanding, which I have outlined, holds, then what the opponents have been arguing against is not the policy itself, but how the K of C leadership intends to carry it out. Furthermore, the criticism would then be directed at the leadership themselves, rather than the Rule of the Order. In other words, the way I see it is that those opposed to the latest statements by the Knights think that there is a people problem, not an organizational problem.

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