Knights of Columbus Spending Millions to Stop Marriage Equality

Report by Equally Blessed examines politicization, questionable alliances of Knights

WASHINGTON, D. C., October 18--The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, has used its extensive financial resources to become one of the most aggressive opponents of marriage equality in the United States, according to a report released today by Equally Blessed. The group is a coalition of four Catholic groups that support equal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church and the wider society.

While local branches of the Knights continue the charitable activities for which the organization has long been known, the organization’s national leadership under Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, a former Reagan administration staff member, has become increasingly politicized, the report says.

“Carl Anderson is using the good name that the Knights have developed over generations as cover while pursuing policies and making alliances that many Catholics find deeply troubling when they learn about them,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a member of the Equally Blessed coalition.

According to the report, which is based primarily on the Knights’ filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the organization donated $6.25 million to anti-marriage equality efforts between 2005-2012, with most of the money directed toward ballot measures aimed at banning marriage equality in 12 states. 

The sum includes: 

  • $1.9 million in donations to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), $1.4 million of which was devoted to a successful and highly controversial campaign to overturn marriage equality legislation in Maine.
  • a $1.1 million dollar donation to which supported the passage of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that banned marriage equality in California.
  • more than $630,000 in donations to groups working against marriage equality through ballot initiatives that will be voted on next month in Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

According to NOM’s internal memos, unsealed during legal proceedings in Maine, the organization adopted a strategy of turning the Black and Hispanic communities against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people during the campaign to overturn marriage equality legislation in that state. The same memos advocated finding children who had been raised by same-sex couples and persuading them to speak out against their parents.

“The Knights portray themselves as representatives of a broad Catholic tradition, but they have become culture warriors,” said David Saavedra, co-president of the board of Call To Action, an Equally Blessed coalition member. “Most U. S. Catholics support marriage equality, and even those who have doubts are put off by these hardline tactics.”

The report, which was made possible by contributions from Equally Blessed organizations, the Human Rights Campaign and several individual donors, also examines the Knights’ support for legal and educational initiatives to thwart marriage equality. 

The Knights has contributed $1.5 million to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has mounted legal challenges to marriage equality on the grounds that it infringes upon the religious liberties of those who oppose it, and more than $1.1 million to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage.

Since 2009, the Knights has assessed each of its 1.8 million members a $2 annual fee to support its Culture of Life initiative, which includes its campaign against marriage equality, the report notes. Many Catholics who support the Knights’ charitable initiatives in their parish or diocese are largely unaware of the organization’s involvement in “culture war” issues both inside and outside the church.

“So many of us have memories of our fathers and grandfathers putting on their Knights’ regalia to march in parades and participate in special Masses,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which is a member of the coalition. “We remember them raising scholarship money so Catholic kids could go to college. It is deeply disheartening to know that this same organization is requiring its members to contribute to campaigns aimed at making sure that some of those kids are treated as second-class citizens.”

According to the report, the Knights has accrued significant influence within the Roman Catholic Church thanks to large contributions to the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It uses that influence, the report states, to advance a conservative political and theological agenda, sometimes at the expense of other U. S. Catholics.

According to media reports, the Knights partially funded an investigation into the work of U. S. nuns by the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious. This investigation preceded the investigation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which has culminated in an attempt to delegitimize the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). The LCWR, many of whose members are strong advocates for economic justice, represents 80 percent of women religious in the United States. The Vatican criticized the group for seeming to challenge positions taken by bishops “who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the Knights’ chaplain, reportedly called for the investigation into the LCWR. The Knights contributed $265,000 to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, a smaller, more politically and theologically conservative group of nuns.

“It is a shame to see the Knights using their influence against women who have served the church so well for so long," said Mary Ellen Lopata, co-founder of Fortunate Families, a coalition member.

Equally Blessed is a coalition of faithful Catholics who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both in the church and in civil society. Equally Blessed includes four organizations that have spent a combined 115 years working on behalf of LGBT people and their families:  Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.


More than fifty years ago, I was proud to be a Knight, as my father was before me. Taking part in its initiation (as SB, CG, etc.) was a privilege. I have my late father's KofC ring, as a memorial to him -- but I will no longer wear it. The Knights are an embarrassment to Gospel principles.

I'll never donate to anything they are associated with again.

I'm not surprised. One need only peruse a copy of their magazine, "Columbia," to assess what a far-right agenda the Knights have adopted. My husband is a member, but declined to ascend to the fourth degree that has some sort of hush-hush rules or rituals, making it sound junior-highish. What's to hide? The Knights seem to have joined secretive societies like Opus Dei and the Legionairres. All seem to yearn for some idealized past and suffer fear of the present and future. More evidence of the medieval nature of so much of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Montini was right. We are at least 200 years behind.

Went through 4th degree ceremony, 30 years ago.Nothing sinister about it.and it was a good meal.Haven't been much a part of it for 25 years. yet, on the local level have seen some councils where good men were merely trying to do good. .The international leadership has always been rewarded for being a money source for conservative church initiatives.I think it is correct to say that the Grand Knight is sitting in on the present ongoing synod of Bishops in Rome. K of C makes most of it's money in the insurance business.... K of C insurance is a non-profit organization. The current rules on non-profits are that Church related organizations can speak to and raise money for political campaigns, so long as their reasoning is based in faith and not in Partisan politics .Most of the Vatican documents on this topic, seems to place them within their rights.

Everywhere I go and speak with Christians they worry about the lack of attendance at their church services. I'm 64 years old and the church I'm attending, I'm the youngest by at least 10 years. Does that tell you all something? Let me say that again, DOES THAT TELL YOU SOMETHING!?! As Christians, of any faith, we need to stop being so damned exclusive and learn to become inclusive. If you and yours don't care for the way people are acting or thinking, the easiest thing is to invite them in. By doing so, they have to opportunity to see how you act and share. By sharing, you both might learn something new and they might not be that far off from you. Think about it, we are all looking into the face of God when we look at each other.

Will never give another dime to KOC after learning this.


What an irony! Do they know who Columbus was? From where he came? There should be no place for bigotry of any kind in the Church. Unfortunately, it's alive and well, well financed that is, by some pretty influential people.

I agree with Barbara. This is the kind of thinking that has the church on the rocks today! No support here for the KOC... or any organization that continues this small thinking!

I'm appalled that the Knights of Columbus have become so politicized. The investigation of the LCWR by the Vatican is the most egregious example of a distraction from the sex abuse scandal. The Sisters have been living Vatican II values in their ministries faithfully. The gospel of Jesus Christ with inclusion of all has been the hallmark of their ministry. The Knights should spend their money on the poor and marginalized and stay out of politics.

Months ago, I wrote to the Knights, locally and the national organization, about the cover of Columbia that showed a man on horseback carrying a rifle and a crucifix. This came from the movie on Catholic persecutions in Mexico. I and others felt that the cover promoted the idea of violent terrorism in the name of the cross and our faith, something we as Catholic Christians should oppose, not promote. This film showed violent acts in another country nearly 100 years ago, but the Church was pushing it ad nauseum as fearmongering (along with the ridiculous "fortnight" business), to lead Catholics to believe that Obamacare was leading to persecution of our faith, something we needed to rise up and fight against even using violence. Total nonsense and just plain wrong on so many levels. Here you show even more wrongs from the top levels of the Knights. It is sad, given their proud history and good works locally.

This is very troubling. Thank you, Fortunate Families/Equally Blessed, for calling this to our attention.
And to learn they helped fund the Vatican investigation of LCWR is also deeply disturbing, as many thoughtful Catholics were and still are shocked that the devotion to the faith and service to the needy by religious women has been challenged..
Despite their religious trappings, the Knights are an obviously prosperous insurance organization. Do they enjoy tax-exempt status? If so, do not these donations and activities endanger that privilege?

After a 2 year stint as GK I had enough. I found that most councils are all about themselves. I initiated a charity fund that was funded by a pancake breakfast. The council had NO and I mean NO inclination to be involved with 'giving away' money. After my stint the council changed the charity fund to a seminarians fund which finances our priests to be. I also saw the political writing on the wall, with the ultra conservatives taking control at the local and national levels. I quit paying dues soon after my tenure as GK, knowing I could not support such a narrow minded group. A great problem with the organization IS the Supreme GK, a Reagan holdover who enjoys the accolades from Rome for the work he does to fund them and their proxies.

And we are surprised because???

My father was a Knight and so proud to be one. They performed good works and they prayed, and they took good care of their families. He would be saddened to learn that his beloved grandson was being treated this way our Church.

I have been a member of the K of C for over 15 years. Our local chapter has won numerous awards for its amazing charitable work. I am also the proud father of a wonderful daughter who happens to be gay. I find the news in this article to be infuriating and incredibly sad. How can we as a Church say we are followers of Jesus when we treat our LGBT children this way?

I'm a fourth degree and no longer pay dues. I've seen for a number of years where they were headed and it is scary. Most of the men in local councils choose not to apply the gospel in the world around them but keep their eyes closed.

I'm a journalist. My dad was a Knight and proud of it. I decided sometime in the '70s that I would never join the KofC because of the obviously conservative political tilt in its national leadership (although at one point I co-wrote an article for their magazine, Columbia -- hey, it was on ecumenism, which I thought the rank-and-file Knights could use some education in).
Back in the mid-'80s, when Bishop James Malone of Youngstown, Ohio, was elected president of the bishops' conference, I asked him in an interview what he thought of the Knights' politically conservative approach to Catholic social teachings, ignoring issues like justice for immigrants or the bishops' strong pastoral letter on nuclear weapons (1983) and their developing pastoral on the economy (1986), while emphasizing opposition to legalized abortion and similar Republican/conservative issues at their annual conventions.
I forget exactly what Malone said in response and cannot immediately access my article on the interview, but I recall that he framed his reply very carefully and diplomatically to avoid offending the Knights, while at the same time making it quite clear that he did not find their positions fully in keeping with the bishops' views.
Since then the Knights (and the bishops as well) have gone much further to both the political and theological right.
The Knights' massive financial opposition to marriage equality is only their latest foray into the conservative Kulturkampf (culture war) in American society. It has far less to do with Catholic faith than with a social and political ideology only faintly, if at all, associated with authentic religious faith.

Just another obstacle to unity! At the rate of new members however, we probably won't have to worry for too long, as the KofC along with most fraternal groups, is not growing by leaps and bounds. Shame on them!

When I was in parish work years ago, the local Knights tried to get me to join them. I think they got extra points for recruiting a priest. Their sales pitch to me at the time was that every bishop in the state was a member. That information only made me more determined NOT to join them.
I'm not surprised at all that they are so behind the times on marriage equality and that they coughed up a lot of money just to keep us LGBT folks "in our place." They are truly from another era. They (like the RC hierarchical structure) can't die out soon enough to suit me.

As an Irish former altar boy and teenage organist in our local St. Patricks Church, I can definitely understand why these old duffers in KofC are terrified of gays in their midst... all those secret rituals and fancy jewelry and feathery hats and colorful uniforms -- who wants the competition??? My grand Irish father sent me a birthday card once: "What's the difference between a gay bar and an Irish bar? In a gay bar, the homosexuals get drunk; in an Irish bar, the drunks get homosexual!"

But financing the witch hunt against the nuns of NETWORK and LCWR, the saintly people who actually get their hands dirty and do the tough, on-the-ground good works that make the Church leaders look charitable -- that's going way too far.

Fortunately, the actuarial tables of life are running out on these guys. Meanwhile, they're like Japanese soldiers hiding in island caves doing quixotic battle, unaware that the war is over and the world has moved on. It would all be sadly amusing if it weren't for the damage that they still do to the self-images of young people. Ugh.

It is good to know that there is diversity in the Roman Catholic community. Benny the Rottweiller and many of his loyal subordinates may be vicious and bigoted but a substantial number of genuinely humane people, with organization, lends cause for hope for the future. christianity does not have to be a bad influence.

Shame on you Knights of Columbus

I was a daughter of Isabella, my father, x husband where both knights, but this year I have left the catholic church as I could not reconcile myself going and giving my money to an institution that was against equal rights and LGBT community. I still believe in a higher power, but believe that he is a god of good and made us all in his eyes. In Canada we do have equal rights for marriage so one day I will see my son marry his b/f and I hope that it will be the same in the US also.

I had no idea that the Knights were doing this to our LGBT youth. How dare you?
I wish they would do the right thing and give money back to all the families that have a single LGBT youth in their family.

I feel the K of C are nothing but devil warriors. How dare them to say who we are. We too are God's children. We are of the same God who gave us birth. What do these K of C people know. Let them spend all these monies. We will continue to do God's work.