by Most Rev. James T. McHugh
August 6, 1999
The Knights of Columbus just concluded their 117th annual convention in Minneapolis. I look forward each year to the meeting and I am always inspired by the Knights and their families, the convention Mass, and the opportunity to meet with bishops from Canada, the Philippines, Central America and the United States.
This year's annual report by Virgil Dechant, head of the Knights of Columbus, was especially inspiring. His report covered achievements in the Knights' programs for Catholic education, vocations, youth, assistance to the Holy Father, Marian devotion, family life, and pro-life activities. The Knights' impressive record in these and other areas is a tribute to their loyalty to the Church and their commitment to making a difference in the lives of so many people. Here, however, I want to focus on Mr. Dechant's report in regard to the family and pro-life concerns.
The Knights of Columbus recently obtained non-governmental organization status (NGO) at the United Nations. NGOs follow activities of the UN and its agencies, and lobby on behalf of their special interests. Over the years the number of NGOs has grown enormously, especially in relation to the International Conferences on population and women. Population control groups, largely American and centered in New York, have mobilized to change those UN policies that discourage abortion as a method of family planning as well as those that prohibit UN funding for abortion. In recent years these pro-abortion groups have proliferated, largely supported and encouraged by U.S. government agencies. The Clinton Administration has taken a high-profile advocacy position to change UN policy in this regard.
The Knights of Columbus will now be able to take an active role in special meetings of the United Nations, and mobilize their constituency in the U.S. and abroad to support pro-life initiatives and to oppose the U.S.-led abortion juggernaut. The Knights will also be able to support the Holy See on a wide range of initiatives at the UN dealing with development, the elderly, arms control, peace keeping and children.
The Holy See, as a Permanent Observer to the United Nations, actively supports UN initiatives in many of these areas, but, because of its pro-life position, it receives criticism and opposition from some NGOs. Mr. Dechant was especially strong in voicing objection to the activities of a group that calls itself Catholics for a Free Choice. This is a small group with few members and a narrow focus--advocacy for abortion and opposition to the Catholic Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life--but lots of money provided by U.S. foundations that fund population control and abortion advocacy groups to carry out public relations campaigns.
Mr. Dechant noted the financial support that the Knights have given to the NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities and to other national and state pro-life organizations. He said that the German government has approved RU 486, the abortion pill "used to kill babies well into the second month of pregnancy," and that "thanks to the Clinton Administration, this 'helpful' drug may be available in the United States by the end of the year." Dechant also reported on efforts in the various states to legalize assisted suicide, and noted the Knights' contribution to the success in Michigan in defeating an assisted suicide bill there. Mr. Dechant urged the Knights to continue to take an active role at the state and local level.
"Twice," said Dechant, "the partial-birth abortion ban has been enacted by Congress, twice it has been sent to President Clinton and twice he has vetoed it." He called attention to the Child Custody Protection Act which would forbid a non-custodial adult's taking a minor child to another state for an abortion to avoid the home state's parental notification law. "Unfortunately," said Mr. Dechant, "this pro-life, pro-family proposal also faces the threat of a veto by our president." The Knights' ongoing support for natural family planning programs and agencies was heralded as an effort to strengthen and support marriage and family life.
Virgil Dechant reminded the Knights: "The Knights of Columbus is committed to the sanctity of life and to the traditional family. The defense of life from conception to natural death is fundamental in any healthy, sane society. So also the traditional pattern of family life--father, mother and children joined in fidelity and love--is recognized as God's plan, necessary to the happiness and well-being of individuals and nations."
Thank God for the Knights of Columbus and their families.
Bishop James T. McHugh is Coadjutor Bishop of Rockville Centre and a member of the NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities.