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Knights of Columbus Communications Flawed

By Peter Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 25, 2010

CatholicCulture.org’s breaking news piece and following commentary (On the News) regarding the Knights of Columbus’ reluctance to suspend the membership of dissident Knights, has generated its fair share of controversy as well as a formal response from the KofC itself.

Both the original news story and the continuing commentary on CatholicCulture.org are, ultimately, the result of two statements made by the Knights of Columbus. Ironically, critical communications mistakes were made in the last substantive paragraph of each statement. I’m going to explore the flaws in those paragraphs from a business strategy standpoint.

The first statement concluded as follows:

Finally, the Order must be sensitive to the role of the bishops, with whom we stand in solidarity. If the public figure's bishop has not excommunicated him for his public positions on issues relating to matters of faith and morals, it would be highly inappropriate for the Knights of Columbus to do so.

This statement, written by the KofC’s Supreme Advocate/General Counsel, failed to make the critical distinction between the act of excommunication from the Catholic Church and the act of removing a Knight from membership in the KofC.

Appearing to equate the two acts was an error in judgment, whether that was intended or not. This, in a small way, undermines the credibility of the legal ability of the KofC, as its lead attorney appears unable to make important distinctions; and in a somewhat larger way, the credibility of the Supreme Council, for the same reason.

Now, to deal with the conclusion to the second statement.

There are those who believe that our time, resources and energy could be better spent hunting down a handful of members who constitute the rare exception. We disagree.

First, it should be noted that the KofC response was made directly to counter commentary on CatholicCulture.org, which broke the story. No news writer or commentator on the CatholicCulture.org website has suggested that the Knights of Columbus’ "time, resources and energy could be better spent hunting down a handful of members who constitute the rare exception", as claimed in the last paragraph of the KofC response.

However, regardless of whom the response was directed to (or released through), the flaw in the communication is its posturing against an unidentified enemy. Who are "those who believe", and what did they say specifically?

The fact that a formal response was issued to the CatholicCulture.org commentary indicates that the Knights believe CWN to be an important voice in the Catholic market. Both CatholicCulture.org and CWN have a well earned reputation for fidelity to the Magisterium  and have been a clear and consistent editorial voice on the "Catholic Internet" since 1996.

Moreover, the KofC and Trinity Communications (which runs the CatholicCulture.org website) worked in close concert for three years, as Trinity Communications developed and maintained the first significant website for the Supreme Council. Before, during, and after that working relationship Trinity Communications has maintained some small philosophical differences with the Knights, pertinent to membership-related issues such as the one currently under discussion, but we are clearly Catholics on the same side in the cultural battle.

This should have been clearly recognized by the KofC organization even while it was smarting from the criticism. Due to the error in communications strategy, the manner in which the response was delivered indicates that the KofC viewed the criticism not merely as a great opportunity to clarify and inform the public regarding the KofC mission and policies, but also as a challenge to its authority. Hence, the concluding rebuke, which was entirely unnecessary.

Let's suppose for a moment that the criticism had come from some other outlet, and that I were impartially advising the KofC.

In my view, the more prudent course of action for the KofC would have been to conclude the official response by commending the diligence of critics (not just CatholicCulture.org, by any means) who desire the best for the Knights of Columbus, while recognizing that there may be legitimate differences of opinion on policy when it comes to policing membership.

The key to the communications failure was that the organization did not acknowledge that its friends may occasionally disagree with its positions, and that modern communication allows those friends a voice. Making such a statement would have helped not only to address this particular issue but also to pave the way for productive conversation in future disagreements made public (which they are apt to be).

The KofC, a great organization, has made two major communications mistakes in the course of a week. Given the high level from which these statements were issued, I look for the Supreme Knight to make the next statement explaining the first two statements, and their included gaffes, in a positive light. This statement should not be directed to CatholicCulture.org per se—I'm not making the point, in any way, that it is deserving of a clarification—but rather to the public at large and to the constituency of the KofC.

For in depth analysis on the KofC and recent events, read The Knights of Columbus: Forgetting What it Means to be a Man?

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - May. 25, 2010 10:44 PM ET USA

    As a 3rd degree Knight, I supplicate my Brother Knights to reassess their statements if not their policy. If this is merely a "don't sue us" action, then it is to their shame to be so cowardly when confronting evil. If, however, their desire is to saturate erring members (I am hesitant to call them brothers) in the K of C's consistent pro life message of which I have always been so proud, then perhaps it is an act of mercy.

  • Posted by: Jim133 - May. 25, 2010 7:10 PM ET USA

    Considering the sensitivity of the subject, having the guidance of the Supreme Council in regard to what to do about prochoice Catholic politicians in the Knights of Columbus membership is reasonable. I wonder if any council has asked Supreme about such a member and what the response was. If the decision of Supreme is to keep prochoice Catholic politicians on the rolls, then the reasons for such action should be published so the rest of the membership can evaluate Supreme's thinking.

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