Knights of Columbus challenged on marriage

The Catholic organization Knights of Columbus is facing pressure to stop spending money to oppose same-sex marriage.
The Catholic organization Knights of Columbus is facing pressure to stop spending money to oppose same-sex marriage. Photo by Hyung Mee Lim.

New Haven is at the center of a religiously charged battle over political spending that aims to block marriage equality.

A petition delivered to the Knights of Columbus world headquarters in downtown New Haven last week called for the Catholic service organization to stop spending money to oppose same-sex marriage and instead channel the funds into charitable causes. The petition was circulated by the Catholics United Education Fund, a nonprofit Catholic advocacy group that decided to start the petition after learning that the Knights of Columbus spent more than $6 million opposing same-sex marriage since 2005, including more than $600,000 in the 2012 election.

“[The Knights of Columbus is] driving a wedge between our gay brothers and sisters,” said Chris Pumpelly, communications director for Catholics United. “We don’t think it’s appropriate to spend millions of dollars [opposing gay rights] when there are people who are hurting.”

The Knights of Columbus responded with a statement that said their first priority is charity, adding that they have donated more than $1.4 billion to charitable causes in the past 10 years.

While acknowledging that the majority of Knights of Columbus funds do go to charitable causes, Catholics United said that it believes the money spent fighting same-sex marriage should instead be channeled to those in need. In addition to criticizing the Knights of Columbus’ funding a controversial cause, Catholics United is concerned that actions like these will drive people away from the church.

The church’s position on LGBT issues has led to struggles for students at Yale.

“I have seen people who like a lot of the aspects of the church but are driven away by these specific issues,” said Lulu Ortiz ’15, an active member of the St. Thomas More community.

Ortiz explained that to dedicated Catholics, taking a stance on these issues is difficult because it requires a re-evaluation their of faith. Most religious people she has observed in her generation still crave the spirituality of the church, but they would like to see it change its position on social issues, she added.

Polls have shown that Catholics tend to be likelier to support marriage equality than the average American, Pumpelly said. The petition itself began because members of the Knights of Columbus approached Catholics United with concerns about the former organization’s anti-gay marriage spending, he added. The petition has now grown to include about 7,500 signatures.

“I would sign it too,” Ortiz said. “I would try to spend money on something that is more close to my heart.”

The Knights of Columbus countered the petition with a statement that criticized “dissident Catholic groups” that disagree with church teachings on the issue of gay marriage for their lack of support of Catholic social teaching and “moral issues.”

But Pumpelly said that the Catholic Church is at a crossroads of sorts, he said, and needs to determine what sort of organization it wishes to be. He said he believes the church should focus on spreading peace and hope as opposed to engaging “right-wing political issues.”

It may be time for the church to grow by discussing these issues, Ortiz said. Questioning the church does not make someone a “bad Catholic,” she said, but actually leads to a discourse that makes the church better and has led to important changes in the past like the church’s view on evolution or the role of women.

The Knights of Columbus headquarters is located at 1 Columbus Plaza in New Haven.

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