Published from 1982-96, Fidelity magazine was the predecessor of Culture Wars.
Knight Errant: The Knights of Columbus Finally Confront Their Biggest Problem
by James G. Bruen, Jr.
From the July/August 1992 issue of Fidelity magazine
Mike Dwyre did not flinch when the moderator asked him the questions about abortion. The organizers of the Oct. 3, 1991 St. Timothy's Candidates Forum had given the candidates the questions in writing earlier in the week, so Dwyre was prepared, and he knew what he wanted to say to the sparse crowd in St. Timothy School's gymnasium.
Dwyre, a candidate for the 67th District for the Virginia House of Delegates in the upcoming November 1991 election, was a long-time active member of St. Timothy Parish in Chantilly, the vocations director of the parish's Knights of Columbus council, and a former volunteer at A Woman's Choice, the local prolife crisis pregnancy center. His wife, Virginia, was a lector. Father Cornelius O'Brien, the pastor, was in the audience, most of the attendees were parishioners, and the parish's prolife committee was among the sponsors of the forum. Dwyre, one might have thought, was among friends.
But he was running as a Democrat, and he held high the banner of that party's orthodoxy. Mincing no words, Dwyre quickly denounced efforts to restrict legal abortion as "arrogant." In response to the prepared questions, he voiced unequivocal support for abortion rights. Would he support legislation that recognizes the personhood of the unborn? No. Legislation that includes the father in the decision process? No, "the state should not be involved." Legislation that requires informed consent by the mother? No, "no further protections are needed." Legislation that requires parental consent for minors? No.
The ground rules of the forum prohibited questions from the audience, so I bit my tongue, as did the pastor and the other attendees. I successfully overcame the urge to ask Dwyre whether his wife had ever had an abortion, and in response to the expected answer, no, to ask further how he could be sure since she might have implemented the wife's right to exclude her husband from the process of deciding whether to abort their child.
In contrast to Dwyre, non-Catholic Roger McClure, his relatively unknown Republican opponent who had just moved into the newly created district, answered "yes" to each of those questions. The battle lines were drawn. And Dwyre obviously wanted them drawn sharply. Many political pundits had attributed Douglas Wilder's 1989 victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election to Wilder's wooing of Northern Virginia voters with his prochoice position. Dwyre was running in the same Northern Virginia suburbs and advocated a position similar to that which was viewed as the key to Wilder's success. Dwyre hoped the abortion issue would ensure his election. Many prolifers, though, had a different perspective on the 1989 election: they believed that Wilder's opponent's weak-kneed, equivocating prolife squeakings cost him an election that he could have won if he had been uncompromisingly prolife. At least McClure was not weak-kneed.
Fr. Kevin Gallagher, who had been transferred recently from St. Timothy parish, wrote to Dwyre on Oct. 9 about reports he had received about the forum and Dwyre's position on abortion. "How I had hoped that you would have been a candidate strong, not in the desire for votes, but strong in the desire for justice to the ones who most need the elected officials' assistance," he wrote. "I pray you are not elected, Mike, for the sake of those little ones who will not receive your concern and for your sake that you not be partly responsible for one of the most heinous crimes of mankind."
"Please understand," replied Dwyre, "that my position, ever since I entered active political involvement some three years ago, is that the law in Virginia should not be changed. It is my conviction that this is a correct moral position as well as being the best course for the general welfare of all concerned - including the victims of abortion." But Dwyre seemed to recognize the power of prayer, requesting that Fr. Gallagher "not pray for a specific outcome to this election."
Dwyre continued to harp on the abortion issue for the rest of the campaign. On Oct. 24, he published an advertisement in the Centre View, a local paper, asserting that the "fundamental freedom" to abort is "under constant attack by right-wing, anti-choice groups." In the ad, he quoted his unnamed opponent as saying on three separate occasions "I will limit abortions," called his opponent's statement a "radical-right position," and labeled his opponent the "ani-choice [sic] candidate." Abortion was the only issue mentioned in the ad, and Dwyre urged voters to vote for him because of the difference between him and his opponent.
A week later, on Halloween, Dwyre published a letter in the Centre View. The letter played on patriotism and family values to urge support for Dwyre because of his prochoice views. The publisher ran the letter, along with a picture of Dwyre posed next to an American flag, under a heading - "Abortion is a big issue - Dwyre says he's for it, opponent isn't" that, perhaps unintentionally, pierced through the fog that surrounds the question of whether someone who is prochoice necessarily is proabortion. In the body of the letter, Dwyre again contrasted his now named opponent's prolife position with his own, concluding: "As a husband and father (two daughters and a son) who tries to live our family values every day, I understand why decisions regarding pregnancy and abortion must remain the woman's. Accordingly, I uphold the current Virginia law on abortion; and if elected, I will vote against any attempt to change or deny the freedom of choice to the women of Virginia."
Dwyre had located the issue he thought he could rely on to win, and he was on the attack. His campaign caused consternation in the parish. Although asked to do so in person and by letter by laymen and clergy, he refused to recant his position on abortion. When Dwyre instead continued to stress his prochoice stance, a number of parishioners counterattacked, working actively against his election, and one, Joanne Strada, became the Republican precinct chairman in his home precinct with the avowed purpose of beating him in that precinct as well as in the general tally of votes. Although Dwyre was a longstanding member of the community, he was defeated in his home precinct and overall by McClure, the relatively unknown Republican candidate who had just moved into the district and who had run a prolife campaign. Who says prayer is not answered? Doug Wilder's strategy backfired on Dwyre. Dwyre probably would have won if he had kept his mouth shut on the issue of abortion, but he felt it was the issue that would win for him, and he made it the centerpiece of his campaign.
During the campaign, many parishioners spoke to the pastor about Dwyre's position on abortion and about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, but Fr. O'Brien made no public statement, sensing, I believe, that a statement then would be imprudent, probably allowing Dwyre to present himself as a victim of Church oppression as have other prochoice Catholic politicians. Nor did the Knights make any public statement.
Shortly after Dwyre's defeat in the November election, lay members of the parish asked to meet with Fr. O'Brien. The group, which met at the rectory, included Knights and others who were outraged by Dwyre's campaign, but the most outspoken member of the parish, and the most prolific letter writer, Joe Strada, was absent, attending to his wife, the former precinct chairman, who was giving birth to their child. The group was aware but flabbergasted that the Knights have not routinely expelled prochoice politicians. Some suggested resignations from the K of C; boycotts of its breakfasts, its Tootsie Roll sale, and its Christmas tree sale; picketing at its meetings; and other actions to protest Dwyre's membership.
Fr. O'Brien, however, stressed two things: first, his pastoral obligation to attempt to get Dwyre to change his position; and, second, the necessity of moving against Dwyre through proper channels in the K of C, if channels were available. Fr. O'Brien mentioned that he had met with Dwyre privately before the election to induce a change and was unsuccessful; so he had little hope for his further efforts, but he thought he must undertake them because his primary responsibility was for the spiritual well-being of his parishioners, including Dwyre.
Because I am an attorney, I volunteered to investigate whether there were grounds and procedure for moving against Dwyre within the Knights. Unlike myself, the other Knights at the meeting were members of the parish K of C council. They said Dwyre regularly participated in the council's meetings and activities, and that the council wanted to keep things quiet until the controversy blew over. They doubted whether, whatever the grounds and procedure, the local council would take action against Dwyre given his relationships within the Knights and his position as vocations director of the council. One characterized the council's leadership as "smug" and "smirking" recently when they discussed their inability to expel Dwyre. The other Knights at the meeting predicted that, if it perceived it were under fire, the council would circle the wagons to try to protect Dwyre. But we decided nevertheless to assume that the Knights would act in good faith, and to try working within the Order before resigning, boycotting, or picketing.
The prediction proved correct. The Knights circled the wagons around Dwyre when prolifers tried to get Dwyre expelled from the K of C. Grand Knight Mike Wells of the parish's Fr. Nudd Council balked at what he termed "outside pressure," griping that "there is a Pro-Life element in the parish that has ben [sic] trying to force me to expel Br. Dwyre. ... They have begun an intimidation campaign of letter writing and coercing members to resign from the Knights. They have gone so far as to publish my home address in the 'Virginia Pro-Life Newsletter', asking people to write demanding Mike's expulsion. I have received form letters from other states and I have been called at home."
Wells got nasty. "I am appalled that a Christian organization would use these methods against friends. After all, the Knights are one of the strongest Pro-Life fraternal organizations in the country," he wrote in the council's newsletter in February, ignoring the incongruity between the prolife position of the Knights and the antilife campaign of one of its members. The people who complained to Wells were asking the K of C to affirm its prolife stand by expelling those who advocate abortion. Yet Wells turned on them. "I wonder," he asked sarcastically, "how far they go against Pro-Choice groups." He distanced himself from the prolifers in the parish, saying "we must carefully choose who we support in the Pro-Life movement. ... We should not associate with zealots that lose sight of their Catholic principles and forget who their friends are." And so, no prolife zealot himself, Grand Knight Wells carefully chose whom he supported by refusing to expel the prochoice politician while castigating some of the most active parishioners at St. Timothy. Wells did not forget who his friend is, and in protecting his friend, Dwyre, he belittled the unborn and those in the parish who work most ardently to protect them.
Funding public relations campaigns, providing marshals for the annual March for Life, and engaging in many other prolife actions, the Knights of Columbus, corporately and through the individual efforts of its members, has been a leader in the effort to end legalized abortion in this country. As Deputy Supreme Knight Flinn told the Virginia State Council at its annual convention in May 1991: "The right to life of the unborn should be respected under the law and the Knights of Columbus holds firmly and unalterably to this view."
But, even before Dwyre, there has been controversy. A small number of men who are Knights have publicly taken proabortion or prochoice positions, usually as part of a political campaign or while holding public office. Because the Knights insist that a man must be a "practical Catholic" to become and to remain a Knight, their prochoice advocacy has precipitated demands, most notably from Fr. Paul Marx of Human Life International, that the Knights expel them as not meeting the requirements for membership.
The Knights demur, however, saying that the decision as to who is or is not a practical Catholic is for the hierarchy: unless a Knight is excommunicated or denied Holy Communion, who are the Knights to say he is not a practical Catholic? Why should the Knights get out in front of the hierarchy? "When it comes to defining practical Catholicity we have not and we must not usurp the authority of the leaders of the Church," says Deputy Supreme Knight Flinn. "Decisions about who is and who is not in union with the Church belongs (sic) to the leaders of the Church. It is not for other members of the Church to decide." Grand Knight Wells quoted Flinn's words in the Fr. Nudd Council newsletter in February 1992 to explain his refusal to kick Dwyre out of the K of C. "In other words, we Knights should leave the judgement of Catholicity to our priests," continued Wells. "This position has been supported by Cardinal Gagnon, past President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal O'Connor of New York, and the Supreme Chaplain, Bishop Daley."
Thus, prochoice politicians such as Governor Mario Cuomo, Senator Edward Kennedy, and Congressmen Edward Roybal and James Traficant maintained their membership in the Knights despite their public prochoice stances and activities. Kennedy apparently let his membership lapse, but efforts in 1988 to oust Roybal were frustrated when his bishop, Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, interceded, faxing a letter to Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant that, as quoted in the Wanderer, said: "Cong. Roybal is a faithful Catholic, one of our best examples of a Hispanic Catholic in public life who is not afraid to live out his Catholic life with pride. I have known him and his family for over 30 years, and I have the highest respect for him as a member of this Archdiocese." After getting that fax, how could the Knights have expelled Roybal for not being a "practical Catholic"?
The Knights have been reproached for their position by those, including Bishop McFarland of Orange, California, who point out that the Order does not ask the hierarchy to vouchsafe that a man is a practical Catholic before admitting him to membership in the Knights: if the Knights are comfortable deciding on their own whether he is a practical Catholic when he joins, they should be equally as comfortable deciding the same issue when it is a question of expulsion. But Cardinals Gagnon, O'Connor, and Mahony and Bishop Daley are a formidable group to buck, even for an intrepid crusader like Fr. Marx.
Wags might suggest that, while a man need be a practical Catholic to join the Knights, he need only be practically Catholic to remain one. They would find support for that quip in Wells' newsletter: "We have a very simple criteria for membership. Neither our chaplain, Fr. Ed, or our parish's pastor, Fr. O'Brien, have stated that Mike Dwyre is not a practical Catholic or is out of union with the Church. He still attends mass and receives communion. We cannot and should not establish additional litmus tests for our members. To do so could lead to witch hunts and tear the council apart." The controversy about whether a publicly prochoice man is or can be a practical Catholic and a Knight thus seems to be caught in a chicken and egg quandary over who should act first: the Knights or the hierarchy. But, contrary to Wells' statements in the newsletter, being a practical Catholic is only a minimum requirement for maintaining membership in the Knights. The Knight must attain a higher standard than just being a practical Catholic. And, if he fails to live up to that standard, he must suffer sanctions, after proper proceedings, including a trial within the Order. This piece describes that process, giving particular attention to the case of Mike Dwyre, a Knight in my parish, St. Timothy. The procedure, though, is applicable universally within the Knights.
After the meeting in the rectory with the pastor, I called Pat Donlin, the Knights' Supreme Advocate, for advice, but he demurred, insisting that matters such as this were local matters. After a couple of calls, though, I got him to forward a copy of the Knights' Charter, Constitution and Laws, dated Oct. 21, 1991.
Section 162.7 of those laws provides that any member guilty of "giving scandal, scandalous conduct or practice unbecoming a member of this Order" shall be suspended or expelled.
Section 162.9 provides that any member guilty of "speaking, writing, printing or publishing any matter or statement which shall be deemed to be detrimental to the harmony and good order of the Knights of Columbus, or tending to create discord and dissension among the members or create public scandal, or causing the same to be done" shall be suspended or expelled.
The Modern Catholic Dictionary (1980) by John A. Hardon, S.J., defines scandal: "Any act or its omission, not necessarily sinful in itself, that is likely to induce another to do something that is morally wrong." There are two types of scandal: "Direct scandal, also called diabolical, has the deliberate intention to induce another to sin. In indirect scandal a person does something that he or she foresees will at least likely lead another to commit sin, but this is rather tolerated than positively desired."
Or, as Deputy Supreme Knight Flinn told the Virginia State Council at its annual convention in May 1991: "Scandal is wrongful behavior which constitutes an occasion of sin for someone else! This is the definition given by St. Thomas Aquinas."
Pursuant to Section 171, if a Knight "violates any of the provisions of the Order's laws, "it shall be the duty of any member who may have or acquire knowledge of the same to make written complaint to the Grand Knight, specifically setting forth the wrongdoings of the accused." Unpleasant though it may be to accuse a brother Knight, Section 171 imposes a duty on a Knight to file a complaint when he knows of a violation of the Order's laws. Section 171 thus leaves a Knight no alternative, if he is to avoid violating the Order's laws himself. And the obligation to file a complaint is imposed on any Knight who knows of the violation, not just the men who belong to the miscreant's local council.
Although the Order's laws mandate the filing of a complaint, the prospect of enforcing the laws does not seem to thrill the Order's leaders. Listen again to Deputy Supreme Knight Flinn:
We are advised by legal counsel that the charge of scandal is most difficult to prove. So putting this burden on the grand knights would be an extremely serious burden. In considering this question we also have to ask ourselves where would it stop? Would we not be opening ourselves up to witch hunts?
G. K. Chesterton's observation in The Everlasting Man that "people would understand better the popular fury against the witches, if they remembered that the malice most commonly attributed to them was preventing births," suggests that a witch hunt may be exactly what the K of C needs: get rid of those Knights who advocate preventing births. Anyway, Flinn's concerns are curious at best. The K of C probably would prefer to focus on selling insurance and doing charitable works rather than on the scandalous activities of its members, but the laws of the Order do not give an individual Knight discretion: he must file a complaint if he knows of a violation of the Order's laws. If the K of C does not want to try or expel members who, for example, give scandal, the Knights should amend their statutes to delete both the offense and the duty to file a complaint; but it is disingenuous to argue that the laws should just be ignored because charges are difficult to prove or because the process might be abused. Moreover, the Order's laws already have a built-in protection against abuse: "preferring charges against a member when such charges prove to be false and malicious" itself requires suspension or expulsion of the complainant.
So, I drafted a letter to Grand Knight Wells for several Knights to sign as a complaint. A complaint relates only to violation of laws that are subject to the complaint and trial procedure, such as the laws relating to scandal. Those laws are in addition to the provision that states that any Knight who fails to remain a practical Catholic in union with the Holy See ipso facto forfeits his membership in the Order. The "practical Catholic" provisions are not subject to the complaint and trial procedure; they are, therefore, toothless: expulsion is summary but cannot be initiated by a complaint, so the leadership can avoid its obligation easily. Under the K of C's laws, though, a complaint that alleges a violation of the rules that are subject to the trial procedure invokes a process that is not discretionary.
Our complaint recounted Dwyre's position and attached the ad and letter that ran in the Centre View, so that the evidence would be from his own pen. We alleged that his conduct, speech and writing gave scandal in that they each and together were likely to induce others to do something morally wrong: to vote for a candidate based upon his support for abortion rights; to support abortion as a "fundamental freedom" or right, rather than to oppose it as a moral outrage; to participate in campaigns to make or keep abortion legal; to believe and argue that abortion is an acceptable moral choice; to participate in the killing of an innocent human being; to condone the killing of children. Moreover, we alleged his actions were unbecoming a member of the Order, and were detrimental to the harmony and good order of the Knights.
(I am unaware whether Dwyre advocated public funding of abortion for the poor. Politicians who support government funding of abortion typically explain that the poor should have the same access to abortion that the rich do: unless the government pays for it, a poor woman would not be able to exercise her right to abort. That explanation is itself an admission that the politician is giving scandal: his very purpose in supporting public funding of abortions is to induce poor women to do something that is morally wrong, something he asserts the woman would be unable to do without the funding.)
Included within Section 162.9 is the offense of "tending to create public scandal, or causing the same to be done." Even those who might question whether Dwyre's actions gave scandal, would be hard pressed to argue they did not "tend" to create public scandal, we alleged.
Dwyre's actions also "tended" to "create discord and dissension among the members." Indeed, we alleged, they did not just "tend" to: they actually created discord and dissension. We recounted that many Catholics, including Knights, were aghast at his campaign and offended by it, and that many Knights wrestled with the idea of resigning from the Knights or from the local council as a result of his actions and the implication inherent in them that, consistent with being a member of the Order, a man can publicly proclaim a proabortion position and ask others to support him politically because of that. We also pointed out that the council's prolife director resigned from the Knights because of this situation.
Fr. Nudd Council is based in St. Timothy parish and uses its facilities. In effect, it functions at the pastor's sufferance. To minimize the possibility that our complaint would be disregarded summarily, we submitted a draft to our pastor, Fr. Cornelius O'Brien, and asked his permission to make a statement in it on his behalf, which he granted. So we were able to assert that the pastor was intimately aware of the situation with Dwyre and had authorized us to say on his behalf that the situation constitutes scandal. The pastor also asked us to defer filing the complaint until he was certain through his sessions with Dwyre either that Dwyre would not retract or that the process had progressed to the point that it was apparent that Dwyre was delaying without intending to retract. We did not intend to file the complaint if Dwyre made a public retraction, so we did as the pastor requested.
By early February, it was clear that Dwyre did not plan to retract. And, breaking the Knights' public silence, Grand Knight Wells adamantly refused to expel him. "I recently received a letter from Br. Bob Warner, who lives in New York, but remains a member of Fr. Nudd Council," began Grand Knight Wells in the February issue of the council's monthly newsletter, portions of which were quoted previously in this piece. "He had just heard about Br. Mike Dwyre's Pro-Choice position during the recent election and was disturbed that he had not read anything about it in the newsletter. Bob is correct, I should have mentioned something before this to explain my position. I will do that now. Mike does support Pro-Choice. He has appropriately stepped down as vocations director, but wishes to remain a member of the Knights of Columbus. I will not expel him."
So, in early February, just after Grand Knight Wells sent out his explanation of why he would not expel Dwyre, he received by certified mail a five-page complaint signed by four Knights, three of whom were members of his council, Mark Cassandra, Joe Ryan, and Ron Savage, and the fourth being me. A fifth man, Steve Halter, was unable to sign because he had already resigned in disgust from the Knights and from his position as the council's prolife director.
Section 172 required Wells to transmit a copy of the charges to Dwyre within five days. Despite his stand in the newsletter, Wells had no discretion. I called him and confirmed he had given a copy to Dwyre. Section 173 then gave Dwyre 10 days to notify the Grand Knight in writing whether he pled guilty or not guilty. If within that time he pled guilty or failed to plead to the charges, Section 173 requires the Grand Knight to impose the penalty provided by law, which, in the case of the charges we set forth, is suspension or expulsion.
Dwyre, upset about the sentence in the complaint that said the pastor said the situation constituted scandal, promptly went to see Fr. O'Brien and asked him to "withdraw" it. Fr. O'Brien declined, saying it was nothing personal, just a statement of fact.
Several days later, Dwyre, Wells, the trustees of the council, and Gerry Torrey, the District Deputy, met with Fr. O'Brien. To their credit, all of the Knights, including Grand Knight Wells, reportedly urged Dwyre to retract his position publicly, thus obviating any question of scandal, and truncating the proceedings. According to one of the participants, Dwyre equivocated, saying that he personally believes abortion is wrong, but that a retraction would be a political act. Dwyre remains active in local politics. No modern day St. Thomas More, Dwyre wanted to avoid signing a retraction to preserve his career as a Democratic politician. The attendees also requested that Fr. O'Brien give Dwyre more time to consider retracting before he had to plead. Fr. O'Brien suggested they instead speak to those who signed the complaint to see whether they would be amenable to an extension of time in which Dwyre had to reply to the charges. When the meeting ended, Rick Morin, a trustee and a Past Grand Knight, was to draft a form of retraction for Dwyre to consider signing and publishing as an ad in the same newspaper in which he had run his political ad and letter.
Dwyre then responded to the complaint, but I got a runaround when I requested a copy from Wells and from Torrey, to whom Wells gave the complaint and Dwyre's answer as required by the K of C's laws. Torrey said he had only received an unofficial copy, and that Wells had 10 days to get him an official one. He had sent the unofficial copy to officials in the K of C's statewide organization, and their attorneys were reviewing the complaint and answer. This was probably the first proceeding of this type that Torrey had been involved with, and he was buying time to figure out what to do. Torrey suggested I call Wells for a copy of Dwyre's response, but Wells would not give it to me without talking to Torrey. I never got one. The K of C's laws are not designed so that complainants can insist that they be informed of the progress of the proceedings. Once the complaint is filed, it is out of their hands. In our case, we learned things from K of C officials only when we asked, and the information often seemed to be given grudgingly, especially at the beginning. Mike Dwyre was the "friend," we were the trouble makers. As one Knight told me, I was Enemy No. One.
I waited 10 days so that Torrey would get his official copy before calling him again. He said the matter was at state and at Supreme, and that Supreme had instructed him not to give out a copy of the answer until the clergy and pastor had ruled on the question of whether the allegations properly alleged scandal. In response to my questions, Torrey acknowledged that he had met with the pastor, Fr. O'Brien, who had confirmed the situation constituted scandal.
Section 174 of the Knights' laws provides that the District Deputy "shall examine the charges and the evidence offered to sustain the same. If, in his judgement, a prima facie case may be made against the accused, he shall within 10 days of the reception of such charges, appoint a trial committee, and the council shall be considered the prosecutor." So I waited another 10 days, and then on March 12, I called Torrey again. This time he seemed more cordial, as if a weight was lifted from his shoulders. He said that he was in the process of appointing the trial committee, that two Knights had agreed to serve, and that he was awaiting a response from a third.
The next Sunday I introduced myself to Grand Knight Wells at a breakfast sponsored by the Knights. He too seemed cordial. He told me that Bill Hassan was on the trial committee, but that he could not remember who else was. Hassan, a Past Grand Knight, had been the parish's prolife chairman under a prior pastor, only to resign because he believed the parish was not aggressive enough. An attorney, Hassan had frequently volunteered his services to defend prolife activists in the courts. If there was any question whether the Knights were proceeding in good faith, Hassan's appointment dispelled the doubt. Wells had not spoken to Hassan about the proceedings, telling me he thought it best not to become involved as someone might think he was trying to influence the outcome.
Within 15 days of its appointment, the trial committee sent Dwyre a citation to appear and stand trial. The trial had to take place within 10 to 30 days thereafter. The trial committee takes all evidence in writing. Hassan said he had as little guidance on the procedure to follow as in anything he had ever done. Tom Trudeau, the council's Advocate, prosecuted the case, which included a short formal statement dated March 30 to Trudeau from Fr. O'Brien, the pastor. Fr. O'Brien wrote:
For the record, I do hold firmly that Mr. Mike Dwyre's statements concerning abortion during his recent campaign were indeed scandalous. He made it appear that one may be a good Catholic and a member of the Knights while publicly rejecting the oft-repeated, moral guidance of the Church in the area of the most fundamental right of all - the right to life.
To deny the Commonwealth's duty to defend the right to life is evasive and inconsistent. Does he deny the state's duty and right to protect the battered child in the home? Why not, then, in the abortuary?
I do not agree with your statement that the layman has no right to judge what is scandalous and what is not. I say you have a right and a duty to do so. You may not judge the hidden recesses of the soul. But a man's statements, actions and inconsistencies you may and must judge.
To rule on the applicability of your own constitution and bylaws in a given situation, is your responsibility as Knights. To use the dread censure of excommunication is the business of the bishops. They are clearly distinct situations.
Fr. O'Brien's statement gave the Knights no room to wiggle away from their responsibility. The situation was the antithesis of that presented by Cardinal Mahony's intervention on behalf of Congressman Roybal. Either the Knights disciplined Dwyre or they spit in the eye of the pastor.
Throughout the trial process, the complainants were not consulted, asked to produce further evidence, or informed of the proceedings officially. As I noted earlier, once the complaint was filed, we were out of the loop, and except when we inquired, in the dark. We, for example, learned that Trudeau had solicited a statement from the pastor, but we did not learn of the contents of that statement until after the judgment in the case, and then not from the Knights.
Ten days from the close of the trial, the trial committee must forward all papers in the case to the Grand Knight, along with their finding of guilty or not guilty; if guilty, the trial committee also fixes the penalty as provided in the Order's laws. At the next meeting of the council, the Grand Knight must pronounce the decision and the penalty.
No word of the decision leaked. The trial committee met but their decision was not announced at the next council meeting, which occurred in early May, before it was mandatory for the committee to render a decision. Dwyre was at that meeting, as was his custom. Two weeks later, on May 20, the council met again in its regularly scheduled meeting. About 25 Knights attended, but not Dwyre. Joe Ryan and Ron Savage, two of the Knights who signed the complaint, were there. Grand Knight Wells read a short announcement: A Knight (he did not identify him) had been sentenced to an indefinite suspension after a trial committee found him guilty of giving scandal. No one had to ask who that Knight was.
After all the flak the Knights have taken - for their failure to expel prochoice Knights as not meeting the requirement that Knights must be practical Catholics - one might think the Order would be eager to rehabilitate its somewhat sullied image by publicizing a case in which a prochoice Knight was suspended for scandal. But the decision to suspend Dwyre has received no publicity thus far. And Grand Knight Wells, to whom the trial committee forwarded all papers, refused my request to review the written record of the proceedings while I was writing this piece, saying "We are not eager to have a lot of articles written. The guidance we are getting is: it is not available." Perhaps the Knights are hoping the problem of prochoice Knights will just go away by itself. More likely, they fear that publicity or a series of complaints and trials could sidetrack the Order from its charitable works and insurance sales.
Dwyre has 60 days to appeal his suspension to the Board of Directors of the Knights if he chooses to do so. That board's mandate requires it to "cause the laws of the Order to be faithfully executed." It has "full power and authority to interpret" the K of C's laws, and its determination on appeal is final.
Several Knights wondered whether suspension, rather than expulsion, was appropriate. An indefinite suspension seems appropriate to me: it allows Dwyre to become active in the Knights again if he counteracts his scandal by publicly retracting his prochoice posture. It is his choice: does he want to be a Knight or does he want instead to be a politician who is a friend to the abortionists? No longer can he be both. It is a choice all publicly prochoice Knights should have to face.
James G. Bruen, Jr. is an attorney.
This article is excerpted from the e-book Errant Knight: The Scandal of Prochoice Knights, which also includes a response from John Cardinal O'Connor, discussion of efforts to oust Gov. Mario Cuomo from the Knights, and changes to the Knights' rules that made proceeding against proabortion Knights more difficult.
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., must reading for Knights and for all interested in the K of
C. Give a copy of this short book to every Knight you know. e-book for Kindle. $2.99. Read
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