Bridgeport, Conn., May 23, 2017 / 12:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The leader of the nearly 2 million-member Knights of Columbus recently spoke about the importance of his group's fidelity to Pope Francis, as well as his hopes for a successful upcoming meeting between the Roman Pontiff and U.S. president Donald Trump.
In a new interview, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson touched on these topics as well as his organization's commitment to persecuted Christians, problems with how some media treats issues within the Church, and what the Knights make a priority in their charitable giving. The organization recently celebrated its 135th anniversary at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., the church where Fr. McGivney founded the Catholic fraternity that now has 1.9 million members worldwide. Please read below for CNA's full interview with Carl Anderson:
The Pope will be meeting the United States president this week; what should people expect from that meeting?
The pope has made clear that he is seeking common ground with the president, and I would assume the president will do the same. Some in the media focus only on the differences between the thinking of these two men, but, there is also much common ground on issues like abortion, religious liberty, persecuted Christians and human trafficking.
In what ways have the Knights worked with Pope Francis over the past few years?
From our earliest days, the Knights of Columbus has always been loyal to the Holy Father. We have a wonderful relationship with Pope Francis and have helped sponsor a number of conferences and projects with the Vatican during his tenure on topics including relief work in Haiti, the Church in America, and the continental Jubilee of Mercy. I’ve had the privilege to meet with Pope Francis privately each year and to review with him our priorities and new initiatives. Each time, I’ve come away deeply inspired by his love for the poor and those on the margins of society. We see supporting the pope, his ministry and his charitable endeavors as central to who we are as an organization. I have repeatedly told our K of C leaders to take his words to us as our agenda, and I’ve personally assured him he can count on our support.
What are the main causes the Knights support?
We support causes large and small, but our primary focus over the past two years has been helping Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East who were targeted by ISIS. Because these communities are so small, they are too often overlooked by U.S. Government or UN aid programs and risk disappearing. We also have been supporting clean water projects in Africa, inspired by Laudato Si, and we just finished a project to improve the energy efficiency of our headquarters.
Two of the projects I’m very proud of are our work in Africa to educate and support AIDS orphans, many of whom are themselves HIV positive, and our efforts in Haiti to provide artificial limbs to children who lost their legs because of the earthquake there. Also, at the local level, our members accompany their fellow parishioners and the members of their communities, supporting their needs in ways large and small. From food programs, to housing and clothing programs, to disaster relief, when people need us, we are there.
We also strongly support the right to life. Laudato Si section 120 states that without opposition to abortion, defending the rest of the vulnerable is increasingly difficult: “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?
If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.” In our country today, abortion takes more lives each year than any other cause of death. But we certainly don’t focus all our charity efforts on beginning-of-life issues. For example, we continued to give away more than 80,000 new winter coats and more than 8,000 wheelchairs in 2015, and we are constantly engaged in tens of thousands of projects around the world to help clothe, feed, shelter and meet other pressing needs of our neighbors. Last year we gave away $175 million and 73.5 million hours to charitable causes.
We also support the Vatican and national bishops’ conferences in numerous ways, including in the defense of religious liberty, especially — but not only — when assaults on religious liberty also implicate the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
How dire are things for the Christians in the Middle East and why did you choose that issue?
For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, we are reaching a point where Christians could literally cease to exist in a country like Iraq. The situation is incredibly dire, and in the next few days, we will be announcing a new initiative to help stabilize these communities because there is a real concern that they will not survive. We have been providing assistance with food for thousands of families, we have provided funding for medical clinics, for apartment buildings, rental assistance, clothing, education, etc. But even more is needed. We simply cannot allow Christianity and pluralism to be eliminated from this region by those using terrorism and genocide to achieve their ends.
I am among the many who hope that the meeting between the pope and the president this week in Rome may include breakthrough solutions and closer cooperation between the American government and its aid programs and the Church to help ensure that these people survive, and that ISIS’ goal of eliminating religious minorities is not realized. As at least one commentator has also pointed out, no two organizations are more critical to surivival of these people than the U.S. government and the Vatican.
In terms of how we chose this issue, it came naturally to us, since the Knights of Columbus has been concerned about religious persecution throughout our history. We spoke up for Catholics being persecuted in Mexico in the 1920s, for Jews being persecuted in Germany in the 1930s, for people of faith being persecuted in the Cold War, and now, for these victims of ISIS.
You also mentioned your pro-life work. There have been some real advances in that area recently - what trends do you see?
We have seen some great strides in this area over the past months including moves to stop the taxpayer funding of abortion including via the Mexico City Policy. Appointments to the court and several cabinet positions are also very pro-life and this is very heartening as well. As our polling shows, support for abortion restrictions is bi-partisan. For example, 70 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Republicans support banning taxpayer funding of abortion abroad. In addition, about 6 in 10 Democrats, 7 in 10 Independents and 9 in 10 Republicans support substantial restrictions on abortion, and would limit it — at most — to the first three months of pregnancy. Practicing Catholics are united in support for abortion restrictions in overwhelming numbers as well.
Some may see abortion as a political or divisive issue, but that does not mean that it is. And we do not see or intend our opposition to it as political. For us it is a matter of morality and values. In fact, it is my fondest hope that both of our country’s major parties would embrace a pro-life platform. If that were to happen, the issue could cease to be seen as partisan, and voters could move on to other issues. We’ve been working on this for more than four decades, with nearly 60 million abortions since Roe v Wade. The scandal is that too many Catholics in public office have refused to take action to protect unborn children.
As Catholics we are called to build a culture of life and that certainly includes more than abortion. But I do not see how it is possible to build a culture of life with public officials who insist on maintaining a legal regime that results in a million abortions a year. I have personally voted for pro-life candidates of both parties. Those who criticize our pro-life work as partisan miss the fact that far from being partisan, it is consistent with our help of the defenseless and marginalized. It exactly fits with Pope Francis’ statements in Laudato Si and also in Evangelii Gaudium, where he stated in section 213: “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”
How can we help poor individuals and families, the intellectually disabled, and refugees from ISIS and ignore the unborn? It's not possible. We are talking about a million lives each year that are lost, and that demands our attention. The same outlook applies to our work in defense of religious freedom — in which we have been supported by Pope Francis. This isn’t a new — or political — endeavor for us. It is the defense of a fundamental right that we have engaged in for more than a century.
What is your opinion of how the news media covers the Church today?
Pope Francis, in his book, On Heaven and Earth, was very hard on the media. He pointed out that too often the media tries to generate conflict and misinforms. He said: “Today, there is misinformation because only part of the truth is said, only what interests them is taken for their convenience, and that does a lot of damage because it is a way of favoring conflict.” We see this with some reports leading up to his meeting with the president. Some push what they see as points of conflict, ignoring the points of common ground.
Unfortunately, in this country too, we frequently see reporting focused on advancing a political agenda instead of getting the facts right. We ourselves have even sometimes had partisan reporters or commentators complain about a donation or two that we made that they don’t agree with. In such cases, they typically ignore the majority, totality and context of what we do — in other words, the literally hundreds of donations we make that they probably would support as well.
As Pope Francis said, those in the media can tell a half truth and do damage by generating conflict, and let me give you one example that really illustrates the point. A commentator recently intimated that a $1.5 million dollar donation we gave to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia a couple of years ago somehow showed sympathy to opposition to Pope Francis. Leaving aside the many ways in which that assertion is problematic on its face, in fact, exactly the opposite of what was asserted was true. The money donated was actually in support of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States as part of the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families in that city.
At best what can be said about this kind of thing is that it reflects what lawyers might call a reckless disregard of the truth. What makes such episodes of misleading or untruthful reporting particularly sad is that it seems that often what drives this reporting is dissent or disagreement with Church teaching, not just disagreement with us. But the media should not stoop to politicizing the pope or trying to drive wedges between him and faithful Catholics who love him.
The pope is pro-life, he is in favor of religious liberty. He visited the Little Sisters of the Poor and has spoken about “polite persecution” in Western countries to underscore the importance of religious freedom. These aren’t political positions for him — or for us. They are values positions based on our Catholic faith. It is worth noting that we support a number of Catholic media outlets — large and small — because we see the importance of quality Catholic journalism.
The Knights of Columbus is unique as a business entity. Can you talk a little about that?
Unlike non-profits that are charities with fundraising operations, the Knights of Columbus is also one of the nation’s largest — and best rated — life insurers. We have an arm that takes donations, but many of the dollars we donate come from the business side. We were founded by the Venerable Father Michael McGivney to help provide Catholic families with support for their faith and in their financial future. The faith side is obvious, and the financial future side has grown into a Fortune 1000 insurance operation exclusively focused on our members and their families.
Many people are surprised by the size of the Knights of Columbus insurance program. We sell more than $8 billion of insurance each year. We have over $106 billion of insurance in force and we have over $23 billion of assets under management. Our members have entrusted us with their hard earned cash, and they count on us to be there to provide for the future of their families. We have a responsibility to their future, and we take this responsibility seriously on both fronts.
One way that we do this is to seek to invest in ways that are sustainable, and to use Catholic screens on our investments so that we are not putting our members’ money into enterprises that run counter to our faith. To do that, we hire top professionals to manage our business and our investments. We have about 900 employees at our headquarters in New Haven and we are one of the city’s largest private employers.
Given that we are operating at such a high level in the financial services industry, while we pay our executives less than the market average, we also understand that we have to pay competitively enough to attract the caliber of talent needed to run a Fortune 1000 company and to successfully manage the financial futures of our members and their families. People’s livelihoods depend on us hiring and retaining the highly competent people able to deliver at the highest level, and our members deserve nothing less than the best professionals we can hire. This has been our approach to the business side of the Knights of Columbus for decades. And it has worked. We have consistently received top ratings for our financial strength.