Published from 1982-96, Fidelity magazine was the predecessor of Culture Wars.

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John Cardinal O’Connor on Pro-Choice Knights


From the January 1993 issue of Fidelity magazine


Fidelity solicited John Cardinal O’Connor’s reaction to the use of his name to justify a refusal by the Knights of Columbus to expel a Virginia prochoice politician, as reported in Knight Errant: The Knights of Columbus Finally Confront Their Biggest Problem (July/August Fidelity). The following are letters from James G. Bruen, the author of the July/August article and a member of Fidelity’s Editorial Advisory Board, and the Cardinal’s response.


Dear Cardinal O’Connor:


Mike Dwyre, a Knight of Columbus (K of C) in my parish, was indefinitely suspended recently because of the scandal he gave in running a prochoice political campaign for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s legislature. Before we began the formal proceeding that led to that sanction, the grand knight of the local council, Mike Wells, balked at disciplining Dwyre, invoking your states name in the council’s newsletter to explain his refusal to expel Dwyre.


I am unfamiliar with whatever statements you have made concerning prochoice Knights, but prolifers in the parish were very chagrined to have your name invoked against their efforts, and we hope you were wrongly invoked.


I enclose a copy of the council newsletter, as well as an article that I published in the July/August issue of Fidelity Magazine about the situation. I have highlighted the references to you in the newsletter and in the Fidelity article.


Would you please let me know what your position is concerning Knights who take prochoice positions in political campaigns? As you can see in my article, I believe they necessarily are giving scandal, a situation that under the K of C’s laws requires their suspension or dismissal from the Knights.


I am sure Fidelity will be willing to clear up this matter by publishing any response you make, unless, of course, you desire otherwise.


May God continue to bless you and your work.


James G. Bruen


Dear Mr. Bruen:


I write to you simply as a recipient of an important letter from you, and not in my capacity as chairman of the Pro-Life Activities Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, since I have not consulted with the Committee in preparing this reply.


I had opportunity to read your letter carefully only today, together with your article in Fidelity. Without entering in any way into the political status, candidacy or positions of Mr. Michael Dwyre, which are the business of the voters of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I am absolutely appalled by the situation you described and take strong exception to the use of my name in a fashion that could be construed to support inaction on the part of the Knights of Columbus in regard to the published positions and activities attributed to Mr. Mike Dwyre.


I likewise take strong exception to the use of my name in “the Grand Knights Message,” Volume 13, Number 8, February1991, of Councilworks. I particularly abhor such statements as, “We need to support those that work for the total Pro-Life effort that strives to improve quality of life for the living as well as the unborn.” That is the reddest of red herrings, familiar and distasteful to everyone experienced in the Pro-Life Movement. It’s the kind of sophistry used by the University of Notre Dame in giving its Laetare Medal to U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y.


It is obvious to me that the use of my name in regard to suspension or expulsion from the Knights stems from an address I gave at the convention in San Antonio on August 7, 1990. During that address, I attempted to suggest in careful, nuanced language, an approach which would involve the bishop in a consultative capacity, as a last resort.


In no way did I suggest at that time, or have I ever suggested anything equivalent to such notions as, “scandal is difficult to prove [Deputy Supreme Knight Ellis Flinn],” that lay Knights have no competency in judging scandal or violations of the Knights’ Charter, Constitution and Laws, or anything of the sort.


I believe a critical point is being confused. As I read Sections 162.7, 162.9 and 171, the sections you quote in Fidelity, I see no reference to suspension or expulsion from the Catholic Church, or to a Knight’s “Catholicity,” or to whether or not he is permitted to receive Holy Communion, or is or is not excommunicated. These latter penalties are, indeed, reserved to the pastor or the bishop. I do not see them as subjects of the Sections you cite. I see no reason inherent in the Knights’ Constitution which preclude suspension or expulsion from the Knights without the authority of the bishop, nor, in my discussions with Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant has such been suggested. In my judgment, there can be no question about the right of the Knights to act on their own cognizance in the matters under discussion in your article.


Whether or not the Knights should act independently is another question. It is this question, as I understand it, on which Supreme Knight Dechant has taken counsel with people such as myself, and it is precisely this question that I addressed in San Antonio.


In no instance, further, have I heard any such thing as “opening ourselves up to witch hunts [Grand Knight Wells in his newsletter]” or “where will it all end,” or “where would we stop [Deputy Supreme Knight Flinn]” (if we took action on flagrant offenders). What a weak justification for doing nothing. No procedure need be arbitrary. Every procedure of such gravity requires “due process.” Witch hunts end where due process begins.


Nor does it appear to me that that we can accept without qualification the statement that “when someone joins the order, he does not lose his right to free speech [Grand Knight Wells].” Even in accord with the Constitution of the United States, freedom of speech is restricted if its irresponsible exercise could be reasonably expected to do grave harm to others (the typical example of crying “fire” in a crowded theatre).


It appears to me, on the basis of your Fidelity article – and I have had no other source of information in this case, that due process has been scrupulously followed. Why were the proceedings that resulted in indefinite suspension not published? I could only guess that someone believed, and perhaps prudently, that publication might help, rather than impede, Mr. Dwyre’s political future, or that the Knights must refrain from even the perception of being involved in the political fortunes of any given politician. That’s a matter of prudential judgment.


Not only does it seem to me that due process was followed, whether or not the proceedings were published, but that Father O’Brien’s succinct statement of March 30, “For the record,” is masterful – straightforward, prudent, precise. It seems further to me that the process you followed and Father O’Brien’s statement could be helpful to councils everywhere.


What can l tell you further, but that I will make it my business to discuss this matter further with Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant. I have not discussed with him your letter, your Fidelity article, or this, my reply to you. I respect and admire Supreme Knight Dechant unconditionally. He is one of the foremost advocates for human life I have ever been privileged to know, anywhere in the world. I have no patience with the way he is vilified. He is trying to do what he thinks best for the cause of human life, best for the Church, best for the Knights. I have never seen him waver an inch. It is unfortunate and unfair, I believe, for local and state councils or deputies to “pass the buck” and the blame to the Supreme Knight, unless and until he has to become involved in due process.


I repeat, in closing, that I did suggest a “formula” in San Antonio. It was intended analogously to reflect the Gospel of St. Matthew, 18:15-17. If others think well of it, its activation might help resolve the current problems.


I admire your courage, your concern and your highly professional statement of the case as you see it. My very warmest thanks for sending it to me.


Sincere regards and Faithfully in Christ,


John Cardinal O’Connor

Archbishop of New York

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The K of C prides itself on its prolife stance and prolife activities, and Knights are supposed to be "practical" Catholics. Nevertheless, the K of C includes men who are publicly and adamantly proabortion or prochoice. Errant Knight: The Scandal of Prochoice Knights by James G. Bruen, Jr. details the efforts of a group of individual Knights to sanction a brother Knight who was a publicly prochoice politician. It describes the personalities, pleadings, and internal K of C practices and procedures that led to a sentence of indefinite suspension of the Knight after a trial committee found him guilty of giving scandal, as well as the aftermath of his conviction. Must reading for Knights and for all interested in the K of C. Give a copy of this short e-book to every Knight you know. Former #2 Amazon Best Seller in Books on Abortion and Birth Control and #1 Hot New Release. $2.99. Read More/Buy


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