Who's Unamerican?

01-13-2019Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Knights of Columbus?” That question sounds like one you would have heard from the Select Committee on Unamerican Activities and Joe McCarthy. But it was actually posed by two sitting US Senators, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) as they sought to grill Brian Buescher, a federal district court nominee from Nebraska, by submitting questions for the record that singled him out because he is a member of the K of C.

According to Harris and Hirono, the Knights of Columbus are “extremists” as they take extreme positions on current issues. What might you say are those “extreme” positions? Are they trying to overthrow the US Government? Create a theocracy with the Pope as the Sovereign? Or worse still: do they use Russian salad dressing? No, none of that. The “extreme” position the Knights took was to support the Marriage Proposition in California that defined marriage asbetween one man and one woman.

What the Senators are saying is that Brian Buescher is unfit to serve in public office because he is a member of a religious organization that holds a position that was the generally held position for most of civilized history until very recently. Despite the fact that the Constitution explicitly states that, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”, he apparently failed the test. We saw the same line of thinking with Amy Comey Barrett during her judicial confirmation hearing in 2017 since she is part of a Catholic Covenant Community much like our own City of Lord, when Senator Diane Feinstein stated she was troubled by Comey Barrett’s beliefs, stating: “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”

I realize these Senators are playing politics and trying to appeal to their leftist base but it is a dangerous path to head down when someone’s sincerely held religious beliefs disqualify them from holding public office. Sadly, too many Catholic elected officials have opted to hold a “public” position and a “private religious” position which is one reason why religious belief is getting washed out from public life. For a judge, if ever a conflict arose between being faithful to your religious values and the Constitution the right course of action is to recuse yourself not to surrender your faith.

The irony here is that a person is a member of a religious sect because they believe in certain dogmas, otherwise what’s the point? But belief in dogmas is not limited to the religious. The above-mentioned Senators have their own dogmas: marriage should be between any two or more people, child can be aborted up to the moment of birth, gender is a construct of the mind. As much as the Senators might accuse religious believers of being superstitious, their dogmas are even more so. The religious dogma of marriage has nature to back it up, after all a man and woman’s body are made to be complimentary. And biological science can back up the dogma of that one is born a man or woman or that a child in vitro is a living human being. The Senators positions are purely based on ideology.

It’s a scary day when a member of the Knights of Columbus is held suspect by US Senators. After all the Knights are a 2-million-member Catholic Service Organization that has existed in the US since the 19th century and very publicly serve the Church and US civil society. In fact, one of the reasons the Knights were started in the US was to try to clear away the Catholic bigotry that existed in the earlier part of US history by showing that the Church was not anti-American nor Catholics loyal to a foreign monarch. Over the past decade alone the Knights have raised over $1.5 billion for charities and that does not include all the work of their hands they do and the time they give in service.

While political and policy disagreements will always abound and we will always have to try to find ways to live in peace with those we disagree with, to smear the Knights of Columbus as an “extremist” group, is ignorant of the history of the Organization, its mission and accomplishments. If freedom of speech and religion is only for those who share certain social views then liberty in general is in peril. Who’s really being unamerican here?

In the meantime, my heartfelt thanks to all of our Knights here at Mt. Carmel. They are always the first to place themselves at the disposal of the Parish for anything we need. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for the support they offer the Family, unwed mothers, Aid to Women’s Center’s needs, Maggie’s Place, people with intellectual disabilities, immigrants and refugees, the homeless and countless other service projects they do throughout the year. And yes, of course, those pancakes they make!

Fr. John B.