Anti-gay campaigns flush with Catholic cash

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

The Catholic Church has channeled over $1 million into the four states where initiatives on marriage are on Nov. 6 ballots.

Minnesota voters are deciding this election whether to amend their constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In Maine, Maryland and Washington, voters are deciding whether to legalize same-sex marriage.

In each state, Catholic leaders have spoken against gay marriage and encouraged parishioners to vote against marriage equality. The church also is spending its money on the campaigns – at least $1.1 million, according to a report from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, and Equally Blessed, a coalition of faith-based groups backing LGBT equality.

The church and the National Organization for Marriage, which is led by three Catholics and has spent another $1.4 million this cycle, are responsible for nearly 60 percent of the anti-gay campaigns in the four states.

The financial analysis found the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal group within the church, provided more than $640,000 of the Catholic money invested in the 2012 anti-gay campaigns. 

And from 2005 to 2012, the Knights invested $6.25 million in anti-gay marriage efforts, with most of the money going to ballot measure battles in 12 states, including the four 2012 initiatives and Proposition 8 in California in 2008. The Knights made at least 25 contributions to Prop 8 that ranged in size from $100 to $1 million.

“The Catholic Church hierarchy has positioned itself as the leading religious organization funding discrimination against LGBT people,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. 

This election cycle, in Minnesota, the church has funded more than 50 percent of the anti-gay ballot campaign. The Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund contributed about $600,000; the national Knights of Columbus, $100,000; the Minnesota Knights of Columbus State Council, $15,000; Knights of Columbus local councils, nearly $20,000; and more than $180,000 from dioceses across the nation – from Anchorage to Winona, Minn. The campaign has received smaller contributions from churches.

In Maryland, based on information from the state board of elections, the Knights donated $250,000 to the Maryland Marriage Alliance; the Maryland Catholic Conference, nearly $12,000; St. Ignatius-Hickory, $525; and Our One Nation Under God, Inc., $500.

In Washington, based on information from the state public disclosure commission, the Knights donated $250,000 and St. Monica Parish, $5,000.

In Maine, according to the state ethics commission, the Knights donated $1,135.

The Knights of Columbus also has contributed $1.5 million to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for legal challenges to marriage equality and more than $1.1 million to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage.

Where does the Knights money come from? 

The group was founded in 1882 as a U.S. mutual aid society for Catholic immigrants. The organization flourished in the 20th century, becoming a major provider of life insurance policies to its increasingly middle-class Catholic membership. Today it has 1.8 million members, $85 billion of life insurance policies in force and $16.9 billion in assets.

Also, according to Equally Blessed, since 2009 the Knights has assessed each of its members a $2 annual fee to support its Culture of Life initiative, which includes the campaign against marriage equality.

HRC’s Griffin said he wondered whether knights and parishioners know how much money the Catholic Church is spending on the anti-gay campaigns. Other activists wondered what impact the involvement in politics has had on membership.

A Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted earlier this year found that nearly 60 percent of U.S. Catholics support marriage equality.

The survey also found:

• Eighty-three percent of Catholics felt their bishops should stay out of the political campaigns.

• Sixty percent of Catholics said the church should focus more on social justice issues.

“The majority of Catholics support equality for LGBT people – they want their dollars funding things like soup kitchens, homeless shelters and domestic violence programs, not discrimination against people several states away,” Griffin said. “The church hierarchy owes the laity an explanation as to why they are spending this much money on discrimination, and at what cost to other crucial church programs.”

Equally Blessed representatives observed that, at the local level, the Knights of Columbus councils hold community fish fries and collect money for the disadvantaged. But the organization’s national leadership, under Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, a former Reagan administration staffer, has become increasingly politicized.

“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 Equally Blessed.

“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, a member of Equally Blessed. “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.”