Knights of Columbus Ditch Degrees and 'Secrecy' for Public Ceremony

Discussion in 'Masonic Blogs' started by My Freemasonry, Feb 16, 2020.

  1. [​IMG]
    "The BIG problem with our fraternity is our secrecy. And our rituals. Too long, too complicated. If we speed it up, say we combine all three rituals, and do it in a single afternoon as a PUBLIC ceremony so their families could see that we're not creepy. — THAT'S what YOUNG men REALLY want!"
    Some version of these very words at some point have dribbled out of the mouths of more than one Masonic leader in the U.S. or elsewhere over the last 25 years or so. Face it - that's how American Masons got One Day Classes starting in the 1980s. Minus the "let's do it in public" part. Regardless, even One Day Masons still at least get to witness our three Craft degree rituals essentially as they have been done for centuries. They are an intrinsic part of the entire initiatic experience that progresses in knowledge and responsibility by steps.

    Non-Masons have a total misunderstanding of what Masonic "secrecy" is all about and how and why it exists. Over the years, quite literally thousands of other organizations have attempted to model themselves after the Masonic template by initiating members into their various fraternities and advancing them in knowledge and understanding. The "secrecy" in "secret societies" usually has nothing to do with nefarious activity, except in the most criminal or deliberately spooky clubs.

    Imagine this statement being given by a Grand Master at your Annual Communication:

    The future of our Order depends upon growth, and we need a way to join that is inviting and accessible. The new combined ceremony removes the barriers of secrecy and commitment of time that inhibited many from joining our ranks. It also eliminates redundancies and presents the lessons of charity, unity and fraternity in a more clear and convincing way.
    Except that it wasn't a Masonic leader. It appears in the latest issue of Knightline, an internal magazine for the Catholic fraternal order of the Knights of Columbus. After more than 130 years, the Knights have just decided to ditch their foundational three-degree initiatic system, blindfolding of candidates, and the whole "secrecy" business in favor of - you guessed it - one day classes. Or more correctly, 30 minute classes.

    With a single "streamlined" half-hour ceremony replacing their three initiatic degrees.

    Held in public with families and friends.

    At least one wag online has already dubbed it "Knight Lite."

    Never mind that they have had our bad example of a quarter century of Masons who have gone through one day events and uniformly stated out loud that they felt sorely cheated by the whole experience. Why am I imagining a group of 70-year olds telling a room full of 80-year olds "what young men want" without bothering to actually find out? Probably because I've seen it more than a few times with our own organization.

    I've been following this story now for two weeks, and the most bewildering aspect is that, unlike every other voluntary associative fraternal organization in the U.S., the Knights of Columbus have defied the 'Bowling Alone' demographics and the generations and DOUBLED in size since 1960 to almost 2 million today. Which makes this even more inexplicable.

    The Knights of Columbus is a voluntary men's fraternal group for Catholics, and was founded in 1885 by Father Michael McGivney, a young priest serving at St. Mary Church in New Haven, Connecticut. This was during the Golden Age of Fraternalism when membership in so-called "secret societies" was in full flower and explosive expansion. Like so many other fraternal groups, the KofC patterned itself after Freemasonry's basic structure, with three principal degree ceremonies (eventually joined by a fourth degree that was optional, similar to the Knights Templar of Masonry, complete with their own patriotic drill teams featuring similar uniforms, swords, and plumed chapeaux).


    One of the reasons for their formation was that so many other fraternal groups at that time would not admit Catholics as members – or the Church would not permit parishioners to join them, as with Masonry. Late 19th century America was overwhelmingly Protestant, and Catholicism was considered a religious minority that was paired with a huge influx of Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigration. Distrust of Catholic foreigners waxed and waned throughout the 19th century - the anti-Catholic, nationalist 'Know Nothings' were a noisy force before the Civil War. The same sentiments would boil for another sixty years and eventually bubble over into the re-formation of the Ku Klux Klan into the 1920s. In fact, the KofC's fourth degree was added in the early 1900s to specifically counteract anti-Catholic accusations and smears of their purported anti-American fealty to Rome (along with a desire to compete in parade drill teams with the Masonic Knights Templar). When Al Smith ran for President in 1928 as the first Catholic candidate for that office, all of those old "foreign agent for Rome" propaganda smears got dragged out again, and Catholics were quite right to not shrug off a few insults.

    All four KofC degrees have historically been conferred in secret, with men only, and each teaches a different lesson or virtue - charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. In time, they also created an insurance benefit program (like the Woodmen of America), their own women's auxiliary, and youth groups for boys and girls. Today they have over two million members worldwide. And unlike Freemasonry, their membership since the 1960s has only INCREASED, while other older groups like ours have plunged in size. But that's a bit of a misleading figure, because their members are not participating or coming back. Yes they pay dues, but they don't participate.

    Now their leadership thinks they have the solution. From a story in American Magazine circulated by the Catholic News Service:

    tarting this year, the Knights have adopted a new ceremony. Called the Exemplification of Charity, Unity and Fraternity, it combines the initiation for the first three degrees into a single ceremony that will be open to family, friends and fellow parishioners.

    "There is nothing we do that is secret or needs to be secret," Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. "We decided this is a way to let other parishioners know, family members know, what the Knights of Columbus is all about. We think that's a good thing."


    At the Knights' Supreme Convention last summer, a resolution from the Illinois delegation calling for combining the first-, second- and third-degree ceremonies into one and removing the condition of secrecy was approved. Anderson directed a review of the ceremonies "with an eye toward staying true to our roots while at the same time presenting our principles of charity, unity and fraternity in a more clear and convincing way."

    Anderson unveiled the new ceremony in November at the midyear meeting for the order's state deputies, who are the highest official in each jurisdiction. He said the ceremony "stays true to our traditions while addressing the needs of our times."

    The fourth-degree ceremony will remain unchanged and will continue to be open to members only.

    "Secrecy has to be understood in the context of the 19th century," Anderson said. "There was incredible bigotry against Catholics," with the anti-Catholic No [sic] Nothings in control politically in New England at the time, and the Ku Klux Klan later became a powerful political force across the country, he said. "There was some appeal to secrecy." Also at the time, the idea of progressing through the degrees as a journey toward Knighthood was popular.

    But today, those features have proved to be an impediment to men joining, particularly young men, Anderson said.

    The new single ceremony takes about 30 minutes, Anderson said.

    By opening the ceremony to the public, "families and friends can see what we're all about and hopefully decide I or my brother or my husband should join," Anderson said.


    "It's an exciting development for the Knights of Columbus," said Michael McCusker, the state deputy of Tennessee. "How many times do we go home from degrees with our hearts on fire and we had a desperate need to share it with our families, but we couldn't? To me that's akin to putting your light under a bushel."

    "What I also like is it removes the struggle of getting a man to go through all three separate degrees," said McCusker, a member of Council 9317 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cordova, in suburban Memphis, Tennessee. "I like that they go, they and their families see what they're involved in, and the minute they leave, they're full members of the Knights of Columbus."

    The latest issue of Knightline also contains a detailed article about this new streamlined degree conferral ceremony, along with several statements from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, the national head of the Order:

    “Just as our forefathers rallied to meet the challenges of their day, we must inspire the men of our day. We must reach out to meet these men where they are. And when we do, we must show them that they are called to be men of Charity, Unity and Fraternity. Because of this we are acting to make our Order more inviting and more accessible.”


    “In recent decades, we have found it harder to bring men, especially young fathers, into the Order. When we ask them why, they tell us three ceremonies are too time-consuming and too difficult to attend. They tell us that secrecy is unnecessary.

    “Many local councils lack ceremonial teams or the manpower to organize degrees. This means many candidates wait far too long to fully join our ranks. Some give up. Too many never take their Second and Third Degrees. Last year, only little more than half of the men who took their First Degree also took their Third Degree.

    “Our most recent supreme convention adopted a resolution from Illinois to consider combining our current First, Second and Third Degree ceremonies into one and removing the condition of secrecy. ... We undertook an inclusive process with supreme directors, state officers and ceremonialists with many decades of experience in the exemplification of our degrees... Our new ceremony can be held in a council chamber or in the parish with families and friends seated in the pews. They will see firsthand, the organization that their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and friends are joining — the principles and values they are committing to and why it matters.”

    So it's all the same justifications: fewer qualified ritualists in the Order means fewer councils are able to confer their own degrees, and fewer active members means fewer personal mentors to welcome and instruct candidates. They have also ditched their longstanding personal petitioning and investigation requirements for new members, now permitting applicants to sign up and join conditionally entirely online without any personal contact whatsoever. That means more men sign up to carry a dues card who never even bother to show up to their own council's meetings or so much as meet with fellow members.

    Last year the Knights of Columbus threw their old chapeaux and tuxedos overboard for their
    Fourth Degree drill teams in favor of a watered down blazer and beret,
    under the justification that the old uniform was anachronistic
    and "too expensive for young men."

    All of this was the very opposite of why the KofC was formed in the first place. So the KofC has surrendered and joined society's mediocre march to more isolation and anonymity, lowered standards of behavior and conduct, and fewer expectations of personal growth and achievement.

    One wonders what the KofC's Father Michael McGivney would think about all of this today.

    On a related note, I'm currently reading Yuval Levin's book, A Time To Build, in which he discusses the former vital importance of trust in institutions and the critical roles they played in the U.S. until the last fifty years. Institutions like the Freemasons and the Knights of Columbus used to be formative, arguably even transformative. That is to say, participation in such institutions used to mold our character and personality, expect and erect standards of behavior and morality, and enforce their own systems of collective ethics on their members. In short, making good men better ones. In that way, American society developed a collective, inborn level of standards and fairness that permitted our unique democratic society to grow and prosper and function pretty smoothly. Joining a group like the Masons was intended to be formative.

    No more. Today, joining a group has become performative. In the rush to snag warm bodies in off the street, our fraternal groups are becoming just one more place to display our already preconceived notions of behavior and status. Members are transforming their institutions, instead of the other way around.

    What the fraternal groups used to teach to their members is far less important now than public positions held, vainglorious titles collected, shiny medals plastered across every lapel, and stacks of spiffy membership certificates nailed over the desk. Increasingly, more groups are being driven from within to be more publicly demonstrative of various favored cultural or political agendas. (The KofC, for instance, has made one of its primary public missions to demonstrate against pro-abortion laws.) Longstanding rules of membership and conduct that stood for centuries are now cast aside to demonstrate inclusiveness, woke-ishness, and intersectional sensitivity. Hairsplitting over whether a "transitioning transgender" is a man or not is now common conversation. Expectations of things like marital fidelity have been pitched overboard so some up-and-coming grand officer won't be embarrassed that he lives with his girlfriend who hasn't divorced her existing husband "yet." Requirements of even a nominal belief in God have been contorted and stretched to their farthest possible limits because "an otherwise good guy won't join if we make him believe in God anymore!" And so on.

    The Knights of Columbus aren't just offering their new 3-in-1 public ceremony as an option. As the Knightline articles point out, they are to eventually replace their old initiatic rituals entirely. "A final date for complete termination of the old ceremonies will be determined by the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors." It would be curious to look in 50 years from now and see if this creates a "traditional observance" movement within the KofC to preserve and revive their original rituals. After all, young Catholic conservatives managed to re-introduce the Latin Mass after decades of the vernacular mass had been forced upon them by Vatican II in the 1960s. Why? They felt cheated by losing the centuries-long connection to their foundation.

    As for those old, previously-taken pledges of secrecy in their old degrees? The national organization declares, "Promises made in previous ceremonies should be honored."

    And who says chivalry is dead?



    A friend asked online why this should upset so many Masons in online discussion groups and Facebook over the last few days. Here's why.

    Doubtless there will be a little clot of Masonic GMs who think this is a fine idea and believe "Our biggest problem is secrecy and time-wasting. What an answer!" The KofC was ALWAYS a weak patched up fraternal cousin of Freemasonry so the Church could say "We have those, too." So this isn't a major concern outside of their group. But they've already seen the destructive result of online memberships for non-participants - they don't participate. All they are doing is further watering down the one-on-one friendship, mentorship and companionship aspects of any fraternal group. And this only reinforces that isolation.

    It's a boney finger and an empty sleeve to Masonic leaders who harbor these same broken ideas in their own heads.

    Continue reading...
  2. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

    I was educated as a Roman Catholic and still remember that "a sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace".

    Sacraments are rituals and need to be more than an outward sign. Similarly for Masonic rituals. Unless the candidate receives inner light/grace the candidate may as well have watched the ritual from afar.

    Unfortunately or not, the inward grace/light is greatly declining in many ritual organizations these days and they shrink accordingly.

    "There is a tide in the affairs of men.
    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
    Omitted, all the voyage of their life
    Is bound in shallows and in miseries."
    Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–221

    As it happens the tide has gone out on a wide range of social institutions - even democracy. Must we wait for another generation to find the incoming tide?
  3. Thomas Stright

    Thomas Stright Premium Member

    So the KoC are no more than a club now....
    otherstar likes this.

    XUSMICO Registered User

    Do you want to be a club or a fraternity? Do you want to grow personally and morally? I think it is important to remember that NOT EVERYONE belongs. Yes, long cryptic degrees and cryptic study is difficult, just as hard today as it was decades ago and for a reason. It cost less today, for most Regular Masonic Lodge(s) than any social club I can find. I have been to Regular Masonic Lodges around the world. Some very poor where members wore field/work clothes, some rich, wearing cheap 3000.00$ tux. ALL were equal. It is the teaching and moral growth through the degree and fellowship learning that holds us together
  5. otherstar

    otherstar Registered User

    Pretty much.

    Before leaving the Catholic Church, I'd been a member of the Knights starting in 1988 (I'm still on the rolls in the Council in New Caney, TX, but I haven't paid dues in several years). In the last 10 years, the KofC has been changing the degree ceremonies and watering them down, and now they've done this. They also "modernized" the 4th Degree regalia (in my opinion the new regalia looks too military). Lastly, under their current Supreme Knight, the KofC has become more "political" and focusing more on anti-abortion and similar issues of interest primarily to Catholics rather than being a social and service fraternity for Catholic men. When I joined the Knights the focus was more on doing good things for others in the community at large, not just Catholic; and having family-friendly social activities for the Council members.
  6. Elexir

    Elexir Registered User

    This is honestly not that suprising. Considering that the current and the last Pope has some strong opinions on the subjects of orders and fraternitys it might be an adaption to not be on the bad side.
  7. TheThumbPuppy

    TheThumbPuppy Registered User

    I was thinking exactly the same thing.

    I wouldn't dare starting a sentence with "What young men want", however I stumbled across quite a few young men on YouTube who want to reclaim a dedicated place for men, the values of a brotherhood, an area that is fenced off from women and femininity in general for the promotion and development of values and virtues in the company of one's one gender.

    I saw this type of video as a healthy contribution in a landscape that has been overcrowded for more than a decade with propaganda attacks intended to vilify white men.
    Bloke likes this.

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